Social media was buzzing on last Sunday with mother’s day updates. I’m kind of jealous about most people’s ability to express sentiment on their Facebook timeline in a manner that conform to stereotypes. To me, all that Mothers Day says, loud and clear, is that mothers are so sentimental that they will be satisfied with something so half-hearted. And, for the record, NO, its not practicable for everyone to have ”the best mom in the world” (that’s how it was mostly branded only for that ‘one’ day a year). Bad parenting exists, so do some horrible mothers with selfish motive. I don’t go in for this ‘one day a year’ for my mother. If you do, hope you had a good celebration, hope your mother said to you, ”I’m proud of you’ and most importantly, expecting that on next day, you did not go back again to neglecting your moms and ignoring almost every bit of advice they’ve ever given you about your life. Interesting fact is the UK celebrates their Mother’s Day on a different date to the rest of the world. Hmm…already confusing enough! Instead, what I did on Sunday is utterly voracious, literally.

My Maa's authentic recipe of shorshe ilish cooked by me

Training with my personal trainer was being cancelled (yeah, I cheated) in the morning, trip to the fishmongers was made all the way to East London (that’s where you get the best Hilsa from Padma river, situated in Bangladesh), Hilsa fish was bought, shorshe ilish was being cooked and a lunch with self-cooked ghono mushurir dal in steamed basmati rice with a few drops of gondhoraj lebu, begun bhaja and shorshe ilish is had. A special day or not, this spread is what I saw my mother cooking often while growing up. It’s been 16 years now, I have been living far away from my mother but I got her best skill- passion for cooking and feeding people. She cooks only Bengali food though and probably makes one of the best Shorshe Ilish you could eat! I, on the other hand, am going to sound a bit naughty here and announce it to my Maa and to the whole world if I may so myself, that I still don’t cook as good Shorshe Ilish as my mother does but you just name any dish from any cuisine across the world, I CAN cook it.

Shorshe Ilish: Reigning Queen of Bengali Cuisine

What happened after I posted a picture of this spread on Facebook, is what is expected! Friends and some of my fashionistas have requested again (I had been receiving requests for the last 3/4 years but I resisted writing recipes back then) that it’s about the time Shorshe Ilish should find its place on the blog. Rightly so, considering this being my most favourite food in the world. To me, Shorshe Ilish is such a gastronomic religion one can surrender into that I have successfully managed to convert my beautographer to immerse himself unconditionally into the allure of this Bengali fish dish. Now he devours it as much as I do given the fact that when I first met him some odd 16 years ago, he used to frown his eyes upon the thought of the smell of a fish, let alone touching or eating it. Nimble 19 what an age huh? We all do foolish things when we are teenagers. Convincingly, it was not me but my Maa’s most authentic recipe of Shorshe Ilish that got him intrigued and hooked into the taste just like a fish itself gets hooked, from the river streams straight into the frying pan! Ask a true blue Bengali, (s)he will make you feel guilty about yourself for missing out on this fish(y) experience so much so that my friend Lopa puts aptly into words, ” I ate only dal (lentil soup) and shak (green leafy vegetables) for lunch today, the space allocated for fish is still empty in my stomach.” Now you’re talking!

Today, I will share how my Maa prepares shorshe Ilish with a disclaimer that this is probably the only dish in this entire universe for which I follow a recipe- it’s my mother’s gem, she is the reigning queen of this distinctive preparation of Shorshe Ilish just as Shorshe Ilish is the reigning queen of Bengali cuisine.

What is Shorshe Ilish? If you were not born in a Bengali household, this piece of information will be useful for you: Hilsa fish cooked with authentic mustard paste. The dish is popular among Bengalis across the world whether you are from India or Bangladesh.

Hilsa fish steeped in a pungent homemade mustard sauce steamed/cooked to perfection with a generous drowning of mustard oil is what we Bengalis call ”hebby” (too good to be true!) experience. There are many ways of doing this, some will wrap it in a banana leaf or Yam leaf and then steam it like my mother, others cook in the pressure cooker(I absolutely discard that idea), some will cook in a steamer and in the oven (I tried oven-bake myself, a couple times) but the most common and convenient way to prepare this is, by simply cooking in a wok on your trusted stove.

Here in the UK, I avoid cooking the steamed version wrapped in a leaf for a number of reasons; primarily because there are only frozen Hilsa fish available here. The shorshe bhapa (steamed) Ilish tastes best with fresh Hilsa. The oven-bake version of this recipe goes very well too. Also I read that Hilsa is a type of Herring, so you may try this recipe with Herring if you don’t get Ilish/Hilsa. I haven’t tried ever though.

Serves 4-5

Time to prepare: 30 minutes including cleaning

Ingredients I have Used:

Shorshe Ilish: Reigning Queen of Bengali Cuisine

5 hilsa fish pieces (Although not seen here but I make sure the head and tail are put in good use)

6 tablespoon mustard oil (Be generous, you can put some more)

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

3 tablespoon mustard paste

1 tablespoon poppy seeds paste

1 1/2 teaspoon Cumin paste

5 green chili paste (I like it hot;))

4 green chili slitted

Trilogy: Key ingredients of this recipe Mix them together and blitz in a spice grinder Make sure they turn into a fine powder to make a smooth paste later Fresh green chilli paste in the making

Lets cook now!

Step one: Clean the pieces of fish very carefully. This is the only part of this preparation I would avoid, if I could. I’m petrified at the very sight of blood (eweuu!) Since we get only frozen fish here in the UK, it doesn’t come descaled. That’s again a nightmare for my neatly manicured hand!

Clean them under running water and then gently descale them making sure that the skin doesn't come off and roe inside stays as it is set

Step two: Marinate the fish pieces with 1 tea spoon of salt and turmeric powder.

Shorshe Ilish: Reigning Queen of Bengali Cuisine

Step three: Mix the homemade mustard-poppy seed-cumin powder with the green chili paste, add 1/4 tea spoon salt and turmeric. Leave for 5 minutes.

Shorshe Ilish: Reigning Queen of Bengali Cuisine

Step four: Add mustard paste already prepared and mustard oil to the fish pieces and mix it well.

Dousing is a must! If you must eat Shorshe Ilish, you gotta work harder in the gym next day:) Mixing the paste and mustard oil This is how the consistency of gravy should look like Dive the pieces of fish in

Step five: Cut the green chili vertically and add to the fish mix.

Shorshe Ilish: Reigning Queen of Bengali Cuisine

Step six: Place entire mix in a wok (I mixed it all in the wok itself). Then place the wok on stove and allow to cook for 10 minutes.

Pop of color: Serving on a fresh banana leaf is one of my favourite ways to present this on the dining table

Step seven: Flip over the fish pieces. Add salt to taste.

Step eight: Simmer it for another 5 minutes. Check if the fish is soft and the roe is firm.

Shorshe Ilish: Reigning Queen of Bengali Cuisine Shorshe Ilish: Reigning Queen of Bengali Cuisine

Step nine: Serve with hot steamed basmati rice. A piece of Gondhoraj lebu and a hot chilly are your bonus.

Bon appétit! Oh! Do thank my mother and wish her good health if you like this preparation and going to try this recipe at home. For me, a photo of your cooked Shorshe Ilish will be more than enough:) Drop me a line at the comment section as I like to hear what you have to say.


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