“Shorshe Ilish” aka Mustard sauce Hilsa fish
Since this dish is being cooked on day one of my visit to homeland, clearly this one is among my favorites. Between “posto” and “shorshe ilish“, it is hard to argue which one is the more quintessential expression of bangla soul. If you are thinking that being vegetarian or not produces a clear choice, stop right there ’cause Bengalis consider fish to be the vegetable of the sea. So there.
The key to this dish is the quality of the mustard paste. Poorly ground mustard paste will result in a bitter dish. So pay particular attention to the quality of mustard and how you grind it. Typically, hilsa fish is used for the dish but for those of you who don’t live in the vicinity of Ganges delta, weep and then feel free to improvise.
Preparing the fish: Start with about 1 kg of hilsa – cleaned and cut into serving size pieces . This should make 8-12 servings. Add 1tsp of salt and 1tsp of turmeric. Let rest while you prepare the mustard paste.
Making the sauce: Grind 2 Tbsp of black mustard seeds and 2 Tbsp of white mustard seeds to a powder using the finest setting of coffee grinder. White mustard seed is only the black mustard seeds with the husk taken off. The black seeds lend pungency and the white ones give body to the sauce. If white mustard seeds are unavailable, you can use black but use a mesh strainer to filter out the husk. Add 1/4 cup of water, 1 thai chili, 1 Tbsp of freshly grated coconut (or thawed). Make a paste. Add 2 Tbsp of raw mustard oil and let rest for a few minutes.
Putting it together: In a heavy duty wok, add 1 Tbsp mustard oil and heat on medium until smoking. Add 1 tsp of nigella seeds and the fish pieces. Add the mustard paste and 1/4 cup of beaten yogurt. Heat to boiling point. Reduce heat to low, and let cook covered for 20 minutes. Adjust salt and serve 1-2 pieces of fish with plain basmati rice.