Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Shorshe Illish - HilsaFish in mustard sauce/gravy.

A true fish eating Bengali will undoubtedly agree that, the fish to die for is Hilsa. A Bengali from West Bengal will insist that if you are going to eat hilsa or illish as we Bengalis call it, it should be cooked with mustard paste or shorshe baata as we call it in Bengali.

 However, there is a problem with grinding the mustard seeds, there is a chance of it turning bitter. There are various theories regarding the grinding process, one of them being that it is better to grind it to a fine paste in one shot, if you grind it repeatedly in order to get that fine paste, then it is bound to get bitter.
Whatever the theory these were applicable to the days of the grinding stone, nowadays everyone uses the mixer-grinder and the problem of bitterness persists.
Many many years ago, I remember a friend who had invited some of her friends over for lunch facing this problem of bitter mustard paste. She was keen to feed her guests shorshe illish. When I walked into her kitchen, I found her grinding several batches of mustard seeds, tasting them and promptly throwing them away. Finally, after sheer frustration, she dropped the idea and decided on a more simple and if I may add a more mundane preparation of illish maach (hilsa fish).
When I returned home and told my mother about my friend’s predicament my mother explained that the bitterness was caused by the skin of the seed, the easiest way out was to strain the paste after grinding it. My mother, therefore, always strained the mustard paste after grinding it.
I had posted a recipe of shorshe maach some years back but I thought of revisiting that recipe because this time it is hilsa fish not just any other fish. Incidentally, I still use the grinding stone. I prefer that to the mixer-grinder.

Note: If for some reason you are unable to view the embedded video you may watch it on YouTube, here is the link: https://youtu.be/zWPz2cg8hFY
If you follow the method demonstrated by me in the above video, you will definitely enjoy fish in mustard gravy without any fear of it being bitter.


  1. Oooh, delicious! I love shorshe ilish. We have a very good fresh fish delivery service here in the NCR, called Fishappy. We ordered ilish from them several years back, but my husband - Punjabi, unable to handle bony fish - got very frustrated with all the bones, though he agreed it was delicious. :-)

    1. Heh heh, my brother too faced this problem once upon a time. A bone or was it bones? I do not remember got stuck in his throat, after that experience he refused to eat it and called it a 'manhoos fish'. Now of course he has gone back to eating it.