Hilsa fish in light gravy (Ilish Macher Jhol)

Hilsa (Ilish in Bengali), the most quintessential Bengali fish is still counted to be the poster boy of Bengali cuisine and culture withstanding the onslaught of modernity. Undoubtedly one of the most exotic fishes ever to be come out from the water of Bengal (East Bengal to be precise), make stuff for legends. A few years back, I have shared with you recipe of Bhapa Ilish or Smoked Hilsa which is one of the richest treatments that can be meted with ‘Ilish’. In comparison, the present recipe describes a light gravy with flavours of Brinjal and pinch of Kalonji. The best part of this recipe is that, Ilish flourishes in taste in the light gravy as the latter acts as the perfect foil for the former. It further proves that Hilsa imposes its uniqueness both in the rich must mustrad gravy as much as it does in light soup like ‘jhol’.

Hilsa fish in light gravy (Ilish Macher Jhol)

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Bhapa Ilish or Smoked Hilsa

Ilish or Hilsa is the king of fishes for Bengali. This fish is generally found in sweet river water and possess a distinctive silver like shining body. What sets it apart from all the other fishes is its supreme unbeatable taste which however comes at the cost of innumerable thin bones in the flesh. But as they say, the more bones a fish has, the more tastier it becomes. When the soft Hilsa flesh melts in your mouth, it gives you a feeling nothing other than which should be called absolute ‘divine’.

In my previous post, Salmon macher paturi / Salmon smoked in Banana leaf, I briefly mentioned about Hilsa. We can prepare hilsa in different ways, among which the the most popular and super delicious is “Bhapa Ilish” or smoked Hilsa. The recipe is  quite simple yet lip smacking. And it requires less oil too.

Hilsa is not at all a common fish here in Europe. It is exported from sub-continent and found frozen in Asian stores, if one is very lucky. 🙂 This time our luck favoured and we got it. The image and the text below is telling you the rest of the story. Enjoy 🙂

Bhapa Ilish or Smoked Hilsha

Bhapa Ilish or Smoked Hilsha

Ingredients for 4 pieces :

  1. Hilsha fish – 4 pieces
  2. Green chilli – 4
  3. Mustard seed (black/white) – 1½ – 2 tbspoon
  4. Poppy seeds – ¾ – 1 tbspoon (optional)
  5. Grated coconut – 2 – 3 tbspoon heaped
  6. Turmeric powder – ¼ teaspoon
  7. Salt to taste
  8. Mustard oil – 1-2 tbspoon

Procedure :

Wash the hilsha pieces well and smear with salt and turmeric powder, keep aside.

Hilsha coated with salt & turmeric powder


Now grind mustard and poppy seeds along with 2 green chillies to make a smooth paste. Add little salt while making the paste to get rid of bitterness of mustard. When it is almost done add grated coconut and again grind to blend the coconut with the mustard paste.

Now take a steel bowl with lid (preferably tiffin box) and place the fish pieces into it.

In another small bowl take the paste, mustard oil, pinch of turmeric powder, salt to taste (remember you have earlier added little salt to the paste and fish too) and little water and mix them well.

Now pour this mixture onto the fish and coat them well with it. Slit remaining 2 green chillies and put into the fish mixture, cover the bowl with its lid.

Ready for steaming

Ready for steaming

Now boil water in a large pan or kadhai over medium flam and then place the covered bowl/tiffin box into it. Place a heavy thing at the top so that the bowl/box can’t be displaced while water is boiling.

Steaming process

Steaming process

Let the fish cook over medium flame for 20 minutes, then put the gas off.

Bhapa ilish is ready to be served

Bhapa ilish is ready to be served

Serve with steamed rice.

Note :

  1. Best if you make the mustard paste in flat stone grinder i.e. “Shil nora”. Because it is not very easy to make a paste in blender from such a small quantity of mustard seeds.
  2. Hilsha is a very soft fish, often break while using, so handle with care.