Ultimate Shorshe Ilish Recipe Guide: Tips for Authentic Flavor

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Written By Hot Thai Restaurant

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Imagine the vibrant flavors of mustard mingling with the delicate flesh of hilsa fish, creating a dish that’s not just a meal but a celebration of tradition. Shorshe Ilish, a beloved Bengali recipe, has captured hearts with its bold and tantalizing flavors. This dish is a staple during monsoon seasons in Bangladesh and West Bengal, where the hilsa fish, also known as ilish, is most abundant.

Cooking Shorshe Ilish is like taking a culinary journey to the heart of Bengal. The recipe uses simple, yet potent ingredients like mustard seeds, turmeric, and green chilies, which are ground into a paste and paired with the fish. The magic happens as this mixture simmers, enveloping the kitchen in a mouth-watering aroma that promises a truly exquisite eating experience. Get ready to dive into this iconic dish that’ll transport your taste buds straight to the lush landscapes of Eastern India and Bangladesh.


To prepare Shorshe Ilish, you will need a selection of fresh ingredients. Here’s everything you’ll need to bring this traditional Bengali dish to life.

For the Fish

  • Hilsa fish (Ilish): 4 slices, each about 100 grams
  • Turmeric powder: 1 teaspoon
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon, for marinating the fish

For the Mustard Paste

  • Mustard seeds: 3 tablespoons, yellow or black
  • Green chilies: 2, with a slit in the middle for less heat
  • Turmeric powder: ½ teaspoon
  • Salt: ½ teaspoon
  • Water: Approximately 2 tablespoons, for grinding to a smooth paste
  • Green chilies: 4, slit
  • Mustard oil: 3 tablespoons
  • Nigella seeds (Kalonji): ½ teaspoon
  • Turmeric powder: ½ teaspoon, additional for cooking
  • Red chili powder (optional): ¼ teaspoon for a bit of extra heat
  • Warm water: 1 cup, for the cooking sauce

Equipment Required

Before you embark on preparing Shorshe Ilish, ensure you have the right equipment to facilitate a smooth cooking experience. This will not only make your cooking process more efficient but also enhance the enjoyment of crafting this traditional dish.

Essential Cooking Tools

  1. Blender or Grinder:
    You’ll need a blender or grinder to make the mustard paste, which is crucial for achieving the authentic taste of Shorshe Ilish. Ensure that it’s capable of grinding the mustard seeds into a fine, smooth paste.
  2. Heavy-Bottomed Pan:
    Opt for a heavy-bottomed pan or a traditional earthen pot (terracotta pot). These types of cookware provide even heat distribution, preventing the fish from sticking and ensuring that the fish cooks evenly in the mustard-rich gravy.
  3. Fish Spatula:
    A fish spatula will be handy for gently flipping the delicate pieces of hilsa without breaking them. Ensure the spatula is slotted which helps in draining excess oil or sauce while lifting the fish.
  4. Measuring Spoons and Cups:
    Accurate measurements of turmeric, salt, and mustard oil are key to the perfect balance of flavors in Shorshe Ilish. Have a set of measuring spoons and cups ready to use.
  5. Mixing Bowls:
    You will need a couple of mixing bowls for preparing the mustard paste and also for marinating the fish. Ensure the bowls are large enough to accommodate the fish pieces comfortably.
  • Microwave or Steamer:
    If you prefer to steam the fish, a microwave with a steamer attachment or a traditional steamer can be used. Steaming is a great method that preserves the flavor and nutrition of the fish.
  • Kitchen Towels or Paper Napkins:
    These are useful for patting dry the fish before marinating to ensure the spices adhere well to the surface.

With these tools at your disposal, you’re well-equipped to tackle the delightful challenge of making Shorshe Ilish, bringing the flavors of Bengal right into your kitchen. Ensure everything is clean and organized before you start cooking to enjoy an uninterrupted and enjoyable cooking session.


With your ingredients and equipment ready, it’s time to dive into the authentic process of preparing Shorshe Ilish, ensuring each step enriches the flavor of this traditional dish.

Cleaning the Fish

Begin by thoroughly rinsing the hilsa fish under cold running water to remove any debris or scales. Carefully slit the fish along its belly and remove the innards, ensuring not to pierce the intestines as this could spoil the delicate taste of the meat. After gutting, pat the fish dry with paper towels, which will help the marinade adhere better to the surface. Cut the fish into approximately 1.5-inch thick pieces, typically yielding about 5-6 slices depending on the size of the fish. Handle each piece gently to maintain its integrity.

Preparing Mustard Paste

For the quintessential mustard paste, use a blender to achieve the smoothest texture. Start by adding 4 tablespoons of mustard seeds to the blender. To this, add 2 tablespoons of water initially to help the blades move freely. Blend on high speed until you notice the seeds breaking down. Gradually add more water, up to 4 tablespoons, until you achieve a creamy and thick paste. To balance the pungency of the mustard and enhance the flavor, incorporate 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder. Blend everything together until fully incorporated, ensuring there are no whole seeds left. This mustard paste not only imparts a robust flavor but also gives Shorshe Ilish its characteristic vibrant yellow color.

Cooking Process

Embark on the culinary journey by starting with the marinating process, which enhances the fish with robust, tangy flavors, paving the way for a splendid cooking session.

Marinating the Fish

  1. Begin by washing the hilsa fish slices under cold running water and pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of mustard oil, 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder, and salt to taste. Ensure these ingredients are thoroughly combined to form a consistent marinade.
  3. Gently coat each piece of fish with the marinade, making sure every slice is evenly covered.
  4. Leave the fish to marinate for at least 20 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld beautifully. This waiting period is crucial as it lets the turmeric and mustard oil permeate the fish, enhancing its inherent flavors.
  1. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of mustard oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add 2 slit green chilies and allow them to sizzle for a few seconds.
  2. Carefully place the marinated fish slices into the skillet. Avoid overcrowding the pan to ensure each piece cooks evenly.
  3. Cook the fish for about 3-4 minutes per side or until each piece is golden and slightly crisp on the edges. The mustard oil will infuse the fish with a delightful aroma and taste during cooking.
  4. Once the first side is golden, gently flip the fish slices to cook the other side, allowing the flavors to deepen.
  5. Pour the previously prepared creamy mustard paste over the fish in the skillet. Stir gently to cover all the pieces evenly.
  6. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet, and let the fish simmer for about 10 minutes. This step is crucial, as it allows the fish to absorb the rich flavors of the mustard paste and become tender.
  7. Check for seasoning and adjust with salt or additional green chilies according to your taste preference.
  8. Serve the shorshe ilish hot, garnished with fresh cilantro for an extra burst of flavor and color. This cooking process not only makes the fish deliciously succulent but also preserves the vibrant yellow hue imparted by the turmeric.

Serving Suggestions

After meticulously preparing your Shorshe Ilish using the traditional Bengali cooking methods described, it’s essential to consider how to best serve this delightful dish to enhance its flavors and presentation. Shorshe Ilish is traditionally enjoyed with a few specific accompaniments that balance its rich and pungent mustard flavors.

Pair With Rice

The most classic pairing for Shorshe Ilish is steamed basmati rice. The subtle, fragrant rice complements the intensity of the mustard and the richness of the hilsa fish. Serve the fish over a bed of freshly steamed rice, allowing the rice to soak up the flavorful mustard sauce.

Add a Side of Vegetables

To add a refreshing contrast to the meal, include a side of light, steamed vegetables such as green beans, carrots, or even Bengali-style sautéed spinach. These vegetables will provide a crisp texture and a mild taste, which helps in balancing the robust flavors of the dish.

Include Lemony Touch

Consider serving a wedge of lemon on the side. A squeeze of lemon not only adds a zesty freshness but also enhances the fish’s natural flavors. The acidity cuts through the richness and complements the spiciness of the mustard.

Hot Green Chilies

For those who enjoy a bit of extra heat, serving Shorshe Ilish with additional slit green chilies can be a great option. It heightens the dish’s heat and adds an extra layer of flavor, making each bite even more exhilarating.

Garnish Wisely

Finally, a garnish of fresh cilantro or a sprinkle of fried onions can be a visually appealing and flavorful addition. Cilantro adds a burst of freshness, while fried onions offer a delightful crunch and sweetness that contrasts beautifully with the creamy mustard sauce.

By following these serving suggestions, you not only uphold the traditional ways of enjoying Shorshe Ilish but also ensure that each element on the plate works harmoniously to deliver a truly satisfying meal.

Tips and Tricks

When preparing Shorshe Ilish, some nuanced steps can elevate your cooking game, ensuring a delightfully authentic experience. Here’re several tips and tricks to keep in mind:

Choose the Right Fish

Selecting fresh Hilsa fish is crucial. Look for shiny, firm flesh and clear eyes to ensure freshness. Fresh fish helps in bringing out the best mustard-based flavor typical in Bengali cuisines.

Perfecting Your Mustard Paste

The mustard paste is the soul of Shorshe Ilish. For a smoother paste with no bitterness, soak the mustard seeds in warm water for at least one hour before grinding. Consider adding a small pinch of salt or a few drops of vinegar during grinding to further reduce bitterness.

Balance the Spice with Mustard Oil

Mustard oil adds an authentic pungency, but it needs to be used wisely. Heat the mustard oil to its smoking point and then let it cool slightly before adding it to your dish. This process helps in reducing the overpowering raw bitterness and enhances the dish’s aroma.

Marinating the Fish

Ensure to marinate the fish with turmeric and salt at least 15 minutes before cooking. This not only seasons the fish but also helps in firming up the flesh, making it less likely to break during cooking.

Low and Slow Cooking

Shorshe Ilish thrives on slow cooking techniques. Keep your flame low and let the fish cook gently. Rushing the cooking process could make the fish tough and the flavors less integrated.

Add Green Chilies Whole

When adding green chilies, incorporate them whole towards the end of your cooking. This method infuses the dish with a crisp, bright heat without overwhelming the mustard flavor.

Serve with the Right Accompaniments

As previously mentioned, pairing with steamed basmati rice works wonders. However, when serving, ensure the rice is fluffy and light, which helps in soaking up the rich mustard gravy without becoming soggy.

By integrating these tips and tricks into your cooking routine, your Shorshe Ilish will not only taste splendid but will also carry an aroma that beckons to the traditions of Bengali culinary expertise.


Now that you’ve got the secrets to mastering Shorshe Ilish why not give it a try this weekend? Remember the key lies in the freshness of the fish and how well you blend those spices. With these tips you’ll not only impress yourself but also delight anyone lucky enough to join you at the dining table. So grab your ingredients and let the aroma of cooked mustard and fish fill your home. Here’s to a delicious meal that brings a taste of Bengal right to your plate!

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