Monday, 30th October 2017

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Hooked to hilsa!

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By Check out these mouth-watering, albeit unusual, hilsa recipes for you to whip up at home on a rainy day COMPILED BY SUKTARA GHOSH, TANIA BHATTACHARYA AND YASHODEEP SENGUPTA; PHOTOGRAPHS BY RASHBEHARI DAS
  • Published 9.07.11

The drops are coming down thick and fast and the sky is a nice dull grey. And though the monsoons may not be quite the best of seasons, it yields that queen of fish — ilish.

As the veterans continue their debate over the superiority of the Ganga ilish and the Padma ilish, the younger generation is happy to look beyond shorshe ilish or ilish paturi and gorge on unusual hilsa delicacies. And chefs from the best fine-dining restaurants in the city are leaving no stones unturned to meet their demands. From Mediterranean to Creole to pickled — the spread is getting bigger by the day.

Check out some of the most exotic hilsa recipes you’ll ever come across — the chefs serve them up with a dash of ingeniousness and a sprinkling of their memories. Let the ilish reign!

Sujan Mukherjee
Executive chef, Taj Bengal

We used to live in Uluberia and there was a canal in front of our house. The fishermen would come to our house in the morning or evening and leave at least two ilish wrapped in banana leaves. I remember my mother, grandmother and aunt sitting together in the courtyard to cut the fish. It felt like a festival. Then we would have an entire meal of ilish maach with steaming rice — from puin shaak with the head of the fish and fries to ilish in mustard curry and ilish-er tok!

I think hilsa would be great with spices like Turkish chillies, charmoula or za’atar. The mild Mediterranean flavours bring out the strong flavour of the ilish. Also, hilsa tastes fantastic when paired with aubergine.


300gm hilsa fillet • 15gm sweet Turkish chillies • 25gm flat leaf parsley • 25gm coriander leaves • 15gm garlic, crushed • 15ml lemon juice • 15ml extra virgin olive oil • 75gm grilled aubergine • 25gm cornmeal • 15gm cumin powder • 5gm turmeric powder • 3gm white pepper powder • Salt to taste • 2 cherry tomatoes • 5ml pomegranate molasses • A sprig of fresh arugula leaves • 2 slices of sweet lime

Marinate the fish with salt, white pepper powder, lemon juice, turmeric, garlic and olive oil. Add sweet Turkish chillies, parsley, coriander and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Toss cornmeal in olive oil till crunchy. Drizzle over the baked fish and glaze under an electric salamander to make it crusty. Grill aubergine with white pepper powder, lemon juice, cumin powder and chopped parsley. De-bone the baked hilsa and place it over the warm aubergine salad. Drizzle pomegranate molasses along the fish. Garnish with glazed cherry tomatoes, sweet lime and fresh arugula leaves.

Rajesh Dubey
Executive chef, Speciality Restaurants

The hilsa is my favourite fish and my first hilsa experience was when I joined the hospitality industry.

My greatest memory as a chef is when the late Jyoti Basu came to Mainland China about 10 years ago. He wanted to have hilsa and I prepared grilled hilsa with charsiu sauce for him. It was a big moment for me when he ordered the dish a second time and later thanked me for it.

This recipe is not only innovative and easy to prepare, but its simplicity ensures that the flavour of the fish remains intact with minimal ingredients, while the spice and tangy mango pickle add aroma and zest to the dish.

AAM TEL ILISH (Serves 1)

200gm hilsa or a round piece cut from a whole fish • 2tbs aam tel (oil from Bengali mango pickle) and some pickle masala to taste • 10gm mustard paste • 2tbs curd • 1tbs green chilli paste • ½tsp turmeric powder • 1 green chilli, slit half way • Salt as required • Basmati rice as required • A few lau pata (bottle gourd leaves)

Apply salt and the turmeric powder on the fish and keep aside. Apply salt on the lau pata (on the side on which you will place the fish) and keep for 10 minutes. Scrape off the salt from the leaves (the thorns will also come off), wash and put aside. Marinate the fish with mustard and green chilli pastes, curd, aam tel, pickle masala and salt. Keep aside for 15 minutes. Flatten a lau pata on a plate and place the fish on it with a portion of the marinade. Place the green chilli on it and wrap the fish securely. Then, fill half of a microwave-friendly bowl with hot Basmati rice and place the wrapped fish on it. Cover it with more rice until the fish is completely enveloped. Cover the bowl and steam in a microwave for about six minutes. Repeat the process for more servings.

Sharad Dewan
Director - food production, The Park Kolkata

I tasted my first hilsa in Calcutta at the Hilsa Festival at The Park in November 2007. I was blown away by the smoked hilsa. Last year, my team and I tried around 10 different kinds of sauces to go with the fish. Think ginger wine sauce, hot basil sauce, Parmesan cream sauce and pesto sauce or steamed hilsa with oriental sauce and oven-roasted hilsa with Italian herbs.

Hilsa with phyllo stacks offers a great combination of Indian and French cuisine. Phyllo pastries are very common in France and using them to prepare a true blue Bengali fish like hilsa is uncommon indeed. Wine enhances the flavour of the fish.


2 hilsa fillets, cut into • 2pcs each • 8tbs butter • 2 large red bell peppers, cut into ½cm strips • 2-3 leeks (white and pale green parts only), cut into ½cm strips • 100ml dry white wine • 1tsp dried red pepper, crushed ½cup fresh basil, thinly sliced • 1tsp salt •12 sheets of fresh phyllo pastry

For the vegetable mixture:
Melt 2tbs butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell peppers and leek and sauté until the leek is tender. Add wine and crushed red pepper. Simmer until the liquid evaporates. Remove from heat. Stir in basil and salt after the mixture cools.
For the phyllo pastries:
Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Heat the remaining butter in a small saucepan. Now, brush a pastry sheet with some melted butter and top with second pastry sheet, brushed with butter too. Bake for four to five minutes till crisp. Bake the hilsa and cool. De-bone and warm gently in the oven. Arrange the fillets on a plate, top with a piece of the baked phyllo pastry alternated with the vegetable mixture.

Saurav Banerjee
Executive chef, The Oberoi Grand

Wasabi and sesame crusted hilsa

It’s unbelievable that I used to run away from hilsa as a child. I found its smell unbearable. Then one day, my uncle prepared tel ilish with black jeera, green chillies and a slice of onion. That day marked the beginning of my ilish affair.

Traditionally, hilsa is cooked with minimum ingredients to preserve its rich flavour. But sometimes it can taste great with stronger accompaniments too. This dish is a symmetry of several flavours on the palate — the pungency of wasabi and the red miso sauce balance the strong taste of the hilsa. The sweet scallops break the monotony of overpowering flavours, while the tempura brings crispness to the dish. So, itadakimasu!


250gm hilsa fillet • 10gm wasabi • 10gm unsalted butter • A pinch of sesame, toasted 3 scallops • 1tsp white miso paste • ½tsp chopped ginger • 2tbs mirin sauce • 100gm tempura flour • 100gm asparagus •Oil to fry 2tbs red miso paste • ½tbs sugar • Half of an egg yolk

For the fish:
Smoke the hilsa lightly. Then, chill until the flesh becomes slightly firm and de-bone. Next, mix the wasabi paste with unsalted butter and add the toasted sesame. Apply this mix on top of the fish and keep in a cool, dry place. About five minutes before serving the dish, put the fish in an oven (medium heat) for two minutes till the crust gets a nice glaze.
For the scallops: Marinate the scallops with the white miso paste, chopped ginger and a dash of mirin sauce for five minutes. Sear on a grill. Keep some marinade aside to drizzle on the scallops to serve.
For the asparagus tempura: Make a batter with tempura flour and chilled water and rest for a while. The batter should neither be mixed too vigorously nor have a thick consistency. Lightly coat the asparagus with this and fry till crisp and golden.
For the red miso sauce:
In a steel bowl, whisk together the red miso paste, sugar, a few drops of mirin and egg yolk. Cook in a double boiler over warm water. Wait till the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has a nice shine. Arrange all the ingredients on a platter and serve.

Pradip Rozario
Owner-chef, Mio Amore/ KK’s Fusion/ Kurry Klub

Ilish has always been a great favourite. Back in my schooldays, my mother used to boil hilsa along with salt, onion and green chillies. The aroma of that dish, with steaming rice, is heavenly! A delicacy quite popular with Bengali Christians is ilish vindaloo. I wish the younger generation wouldn’t only go for boneless hilsa but try the traditional recipes too.

If you’re in the mood to experiment, try the hilsa jambalaya. Easy to prepare, the jambalaya is traditionally a Creole-Cajun dish made with rice, vegetables, meat and seafood. It’s a little spicy and fish like salmon, crab and shrimps feature prominently in it. I’ve used only the hilsa in this jambalaya to bring out the flavours of both the fish and the Cajun rice.


150gm hilsa • 2tbs Tabasco sauce • 2tbs tomato sauce • 1tbs chopped carrot • 1tbs chopped onion • ¼ cup each of corn, bell pepper, broccoli • 1tsp chopped parsley • 1tsp chopped thyme • 1tsp jeera powder • 1tsp chilli powder • 1tsp oregano • 2 garlic cloves, chopped • 2 tomatoes, chopped • ½kg Basmati rice • 4tbs vegetable oil • Salt and pepper to taste • 1tbs anchovy sauce • 1tbs green curry sauce

Take out two fillets from the hilsa and smoke in an oven. De-bone the fish and marinate in a little salt, pepper, Tabasco and tomato sauce. Smoke again and keep aside. Heat oil, add garlic, onion and chopped vegetables. Cook until golden. Add rice and sauté. Pour water and mix. Add tomato, spices and herbs and simmer until the rice is cooked. On a serving dish, put the Cajun rice, top with smoked hilsa and serve with anchovy and green curry sauce.

Joymalya Banerjee
Owner-chef, Bohemian/ Chef Joy’s Deli

Baked hilsa with cheese and kancha lonka pickle

Each year, I host a hilsa party at home. I invite a few friends and treat them to a variety of hilsa delicacies. Naturally, the ilish has to be very fresh. There’s a particular variety that’s flown down to India from Bangladesh, which I try to get my hands on. I prepare around five or six dishes, like the common hilsa fry, ilish-er tok, and uncommon ones like kolmi shaak hilsa, koromcha hilsa, kochu shaak hilsa and hilsa temperado.

Hilsa and cheese is a unique combination. Cheese lends a creamy texture to the fish and complements its taste too, while the green chilli pickle adds a tangy flavour.


2 hilsa fillets • 45gm green chilli paste • 10gm turmeric • 35gm mustard oil • Salt to taste • 100gm grated cheese • 35ml cooking cream • 35gm• Bengali green chilli pickle • 30ml lime juice • 15gm flour

Marinate the hilsa with salt, green chilli paste, turmeric, lime juice and half of the mustard oil for 20 minutes. Wrap the fish in kitchen foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove, cool, de-bone and cut into portions. Next, blend the cheese and cream. Add flour to bind the mixture, followed by lightly mashed green chilli pickle. Add the remaining mustard oil and mix lightly. Apply the mixture on the fish portions and bake till the cheese turns golden. Serve with garlic toast.