Ilish bhaape, also known as shorshe ilish bhapa, is a Bengali recipe of hilsa fish (a type of shad) steamed in a potent mustard, yoghurt and coconut paste. Even though it looks very polished, it is a fairly easy recipe to execute, requiring few ingredients, no special technique, and very little time.
It is especially convenient for entertaining guests. You can keep everything ready in a tiffin box, and just as the guests are sitting down for the first course you can set the container to steam. It will be ready by the time the guests are finishing the vegetable courses. You can then bring this to the table and open the lid to reveal the beautiful steaming hilsa while your guests are suitably excited and impressed.
Ilish or hilsa is, however, facing extinction due to high demand and overfishing. While policy initiatives between India and Bangladesh are underway to tackle this alarming situation (hilsa conservation depends a great deal on water flow in the Padma-Meghna and Hooghly-Bhagirathi river systems), we can do our bit too.
How can you help?
- Don’t to buy any hilsa that is under 500 g / 25 cm. Catching of hilsa before the spawning stage is detrimental to the progression of the next generation.
- It is equally important also to not buy hilsa during the breeding season (especially October to November, but even better, until March).
In 2016, Bangaldesh was able to increase its hilsa yield by 50 per cent by putting measures in place to ban fishing in the breeding season. It also laid down and imposed specifications for net size to prevent the catching of juvenile hilsa. There is a need to create more consciousness about the importance of conserving a fish that is perhaps Bengal’s greatest cultural icon.
- 250 g (or 4 pcs) ilish machh (hilsa fish, 3-cm-thick pieces)
- 40 g mustard seeds (brown + yellow mixed, soaked for 2 hours)
- 8 pcs green chillies
- 40 g coconut (peeled)
- 25 g yoghurt (beaten)
- 22 g salt
- ¼ tsp sugar
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 20 g mustard oil
- Clean the ilish machh and cut it in 3-cm thick slices.
- Soak mustard seeds in water for 2 hours. Strain them from the water, and grind using salt and 4 green chillies to a smooth paste.
- Mix in grated coconut, beaten yoghurt, sugar, turmeric, and mustard oil.
- Coat the fish pieces well with the mixture.
- Arrange them in a tiffin box, with halved green chillies placed over the top.
- Fasten the lid and set the fish aside to marinate for at least 15 minutes.
- Heat up your pan and place a stand at the bottom. Pour hot water, making sure it doesn’t reach up to more than half the height of your tiffin box, or there’s a danger of water seeping in. Once the water has come to a boil, place the tiffin on the stand. Cover the pan and steam on medium heat for 15 minutes.
- Remove from the pan and allow it to rest for another 5 minutes before serving.