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Smoky to sour: Four exotic hilsa recipes to ring in the monsoon

Liven up rainy days with these out-of-the-box ‘ilish’ recipes

Pooja Mitra | Published 03.08.22, 05:32 PM
Where there is 'ilish', can experimenting be far behind?

Where there is 'ilish', can experimenting be far behind?


Like all good things, the hilsa season too will come to an end — and it’ll happen rather fast! So make haste and explore every possibility this delicious Bengali mainstay has to offer.

From quick work-day recipes to elegant party options — these four exotic hilsa recipes will not let you down:


Hilsa biryani

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The hilsa biryani retains the regal taste notes of a quintessential biryani, but adds distinct and unique flavours, making it an umami-rich delicacy. Ring in a monsoon weekend with this ilish biryani recipe that is pairable with potatoes and eggs in true Kolkata tradition.


Hilsa pieces: 7-8

Basmati rice: 1 cup

Bay leaves: 2 large

Cinnamon stick: 1

Whole biryani garam masala: 1 tablespoon

Whole biryani garam masala paste: 1 tablespoon

Onion beresta (fried onion): 1 small cup

Onion-ginger-green chilli paste: 6 tablespoon

Milk: 1 cup

Kesar (saffron) strands: 1 teaspoon

Turmeric powder: 2 tablespoon

Kashmiri red chilli powder: 1 tablespoon

Potato: 4 (cut into halves)

Eggs: 4-5 boiled and peeled



Mustard oil

Vegetable oil



  • Make a potli of ½ tablespoon whole garam masala
  • Soak the rice grains in water for 15-20 minutes. Cook with a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of vegetable oil and garam masala potli till the rice is 70-80 per cent done
  • Drain the water and let it air dry on a flat surface
  • Take out the boiled garam masala from the potli and keep it in a small bowl
  • Take enough mustard oil in the kadhai so the fish pieces are submerged and you have enough hilsa-flavoured oil to add to the biryani
  • Marinate the hilsa pieces in salt and turmeric powder and fry till golden brown
  • Remove excess oil from the frying pan and keep about enough to make a spice paste with the bay leaves, remaining whole garam masala and onion-ginger-green chilli paste. Add a pinch of turmeric and the red chilli powder while making the paste
  • Marinate the fried fish with the spice paste and keep it aside. Keep the residual paste to add to the layered rice while making the biryani
  • Make small pin-sized holes in the potatoes with a fork or toothpick. Marinate the potatoes with turmeric powder and salt, and deep fry
  • Shallow fry the boiled eggs too, adding a pinch of salt and turmeric powder before frying
  • Add the kesar strands to the milk and stir well. Keep aside
  • Take your biryani cooking container and grease it well with vegetable oil and ghee
  • In one layer each, add:
  • Cooked rice
  • A small amount of whole garam masala paste
  • Fried onion
  • Fried potatoes
  • One fried egg
  • A few boiled whole garam masala pieces
  • A pinch of whole garam masala paste
  • Salt
  • A small pinch of sugar
  • A small pinch of turmeric powder
  • Some milk with kesar strands
  • Marinated fish
  • A little fish marination paste
  • Ghee
  • Repeat the layer combination till the rice is used up
  • Cover cook for 10-15 minutes in low flame
  • Check the status and seasoning and serve hot


  • You can seal the lid with atta dough or aluminium wrap (optional)
  • Use full-fat milk for the best results
  • Using potato and eggs is optional

‘Ilisher tok’


Maacher tok is a popular delicacy in several Bengali households. But, how about taking it a notch higher and exploring a hilsa variant of the same? This flavourful recipe makes sure your meal ends on a high.


Hilsa: 3 steak pieces, 1 head cut into half, 1 tail slit

Whole dry red chilli: 2

Red achari chilli: 2-3 cut into halves

Paanchforon (Bengali 5-spice mix): 1 tablespoon

Ripe tamarind paste: 3 tablespoon

Jaggery: 100-120 gm

Green chillies: 2-3 slit

Mustard oil

Turmeric powder: 1 tablespoon



  • Marinate fish with salt and turmeric powder
  • Add enough oil to the frying pan so the main dish has fish-flavoured oil
  • Shallow fry the fish pieces will golden brown. Set aside
  • In the same frying pan, add dry red chillies and the 5 spices. Temper till aroma fills the air (be mindful because panchforon burns faster than you think)
  • Add the ripe tamarind paste, turmeric powder, a pinch of salt and cook on low to medium flame for 7-10 minutes
  • Add the jaggery powder/liquid jaggery/grated jaggery and slowly stir in low flame to mix it well with the tamarind paste. Cook for 7-10 minutes and wait for the jaggery to leave the water and assimilate well into a rich, brown paste
  • Add warm water (enough to make a tok). Add a pinch of salt, the achari chillies, green chillies and bring to a boil in low to medium flame
  • Add the fish pieces and cook for another 5-7 minutes
  • Check the seasoning and serve hot with warm rice


If you don’t like your tok too sweet, move the jaggery and tamarind quantity around for the desired taste

You can have this dish cold too. Just can batch cook and store for 2-3 days in the refrigerator

‘Ilish korma’


A badshahi korma with the flavours of hilsa — if this is not perfect, what is? Rich gravy and thick hilsa pieces on a bed of white rice is the unfailing recipe for a weekend well done.


Hilsa pieces: 7-8

Fried onion: 1 small cup

Onion paste: 1 large onion boiled and turned into a fine paste

Ginger-green chilli paste: 1 tablespoon

Garlic paste: 1 tablespoon

Green chilli: 4-5, slit

Hung card: 8-10 tablespoon

Cashew nuts: 10-15 pieces soaked in lukewarm water and turned into a fine taste

Raisins soaked in milk: 8-10 pieces, made into a fine paste

Full fat milk: ½ cup

Bay leaf: 1

Whole dry chillies: 2

Whole garam masala: 1 teaspoon

Garam masala paste: ½ teaspoon

Red chilli powder: 1 tablespoon

Kashmiri red chilli powder: 1 teaspoon

Turmeric powder: 1 tablespoon

Mustard oil





  • Marinate the fish pieces with salt and turmeric powder, and shallow fry till golden brown. Don’t forget to take enough oil so you have fish-flavoured oil for the recipe
  • Add a dollop of ghee to the fish-flavoured oil and heat well
  • Add the bay leaf, whole red chillies and garam masala and temper well
  • Next comes the onion paste, ginger-green chilli paste and garlic paste, at a gap of 3-4 minutes each. Mix well and cook till the pastes have come together
  • Add the fried onions, red chilli powders, a pinch of salt and sugar, turmeric powder and cook well in low to medium flame
  • Once the spice base is ready, add the hung curd and mix well. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until oil leaves the surface, in low to medium flame
  • Add the cashew and raisin paste and mix well. Cook for about 5 minutes or till the raw nutty flavour subsides
  • Add milk and stir well, mixing the spice base. Bring to one full boil before adding the fish pieces
  • Cook for 7-8 minutes, check seasoning
  • Add the garam masala paste and ghee, and cook for another 15-20 seconds
  • Top it off with some leftover fried onions and serve hot with rice or Indian bread of your choice

Smoked Hilsa


If you have a hilsa cookout party planned this week and are looking for unique options, the smoked hilsa recipe is what you need. Succulent and Instagram-worthy, this recipe can be an elegant party starter.


Hilsa: 1 whole

Fried onion paste: 1 tablespoon

Ginger-green chilli paste: 1 tablespoon

Whole red chilli paste: 1 teaspoon

Kashmiri red chilli powder paste: 1 teaspoon

Lime juice: 1 teaspoon

Tandoori spice mix: 1 and ½ teaspoon

Melted butter: 1 small cup

Turmeric powder: ½ teaspoon


Chaat masala

Aluminium foil


  • Make slits on the fish on both sides
  • Marinate the fish on both sides with salt, turmeric powder, fried onion paste, green chilli and ginger paste, whole red chilli paste, Kashmiri red chilli powder paste, lime juice and tandoori spice mix. Don’t forget to drizzle some melted butter
  • Cover and set aside in the fridge for a minimum of 20 minutes
  • Grease the baking tray/non-stick pan with melted butter
  • Right before baking, drizzle some more butter
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes at 180 degrees wrapped with aluminium foil, or cover and cook at low to medium flame for the same time
  • Flip the side at mid-time to cook it equally on both sides

Serve piping hot with thin lemon wedges on the sides, and a dash of chaat masala on the top

Last updated on 03.08.22, 05:32 PM

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