Ilish Pulao

The Ilish also known as Ilisha, hilsa herring or hilsa Shad is a fish that’s related to the herring. It is a very popular and sought after food fish in the Indian subcontinent, the most famous hilsa fish comes from Chandpur District of Bangladesh and it is also the national fish of Bangladesh and the state fish of West Bengal. Its an oily fish with an abundance of bones but ad we Bengalis say, ‘the bonier the fish the tastier it is’. You can imagine now how boney this is!

This dish is not complicated but there are three steps/processes that need to be planned. You could do it all at the same time so long as you have done your prep, which is the important thing, getting everything ready.

I suggest that you start first and foremost with prepping your pilau rice and getting that ready.
Secondly I suggest you marinate your fish.
Next you can start on cooking your onions for the Barista.
Last step is going on to your fish curry by the time you get to that stage your rice will have rested just nicely and you will have your onions ready and in the meantime your fish will have marinated long enough.

As I’ve said other than the prep this dish is quite straightforward and is worth the results as with any Pulao or biryani it’s a labour of love
You need to spend time to get things ready in order for a lovely one pot dish that will serve as a main and put a contented smile on your face.

All measurements using level measuring spoons and cups.


BARISTA (crispy fried onions)
1 large onion sliced finely.
In a frying pan either shallow or deep fry the sliced onions until golden, crispy and brown drain and put aside.


1 whole English fish cut into slices, cleaned, scaled. You can leave in any eggs but I took tem out to make bhoras. I used Chandpur Ilish.

8 green chillies and 1 inch piece ginger
2 med onions blended together to a fine paste.

One cup of full fat yogurt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp cumin powder
Mix all the above together, the fish, the onion blend the spices, salt and sugar.
Mix all these very gently with the fish and leave it aside to marinade.

2 medium onions finely sliced
100 ml of coconut milk
Quarter cup of veg oil

In a non stick karahi add the oil, when hot add the sliced onions
Fry your onions that you have sliced in the oil and when it is slightly golden brown and softened add your yogurt matinated fish into the pan. Now continue to cook this on a medium-high flame until you begin to see the oil starting to split it

Now add your sliced green chillies and continue to cook this further until the oil is floating and the raw yogurt taste has been cooked out. Be very careful how you undertake this as you do not want to break the fish so ideally gently use your spoon to release and loosen the sauce in between your slices of fish and jiggle your pan to make sure nothing is sticking.

Once you are satisfied that your yogurt has thoroughly cooked off and you have oil around the dish at this stage add your coconut milk. Gently bring this to a simmer and cover until the oil is beginning to surface again.

Keep lifting your karahi and jiggling to make sure nothing sticks, you should have semi loose sauce, at this stage your fish is ready.

Cover and set aside.

Pulao: in Rice cooker.

2 cups rice
2.5 cups cold water
Another half cup later.
1 tbsp ghee
1/2 tsp salt
2 slit green chillies

How to prepare the pulao I use my rice cooker to make this Pulao which makes life so much easier.

Firstly I use 2 cups of rice and thoroughly clean and wash the rice until the water is running clear.
Next I measure 2.5 cups of water and place this in the rice cooker with my rice.
To this I add the ghee, salt and place into it the sliced green chillies. I leave this to stand for at least 30 minutes before I set it to cook.

Just before or it’s finishing it’s cooking stage I switch off the rice cooker and I then stir, remove half of the rice.

I then place pieces of the fish and some of the sauce onto the half of rice left in the rice cooker.

Sprinkle a good handful of the barista and then cover with the rice that you have taken out. Again, add some more sauce on top of the rice and some more barista. Cover the rice cooker and sprinkle in the remaining half cup of water and set it to cook again.

When cooked, switch rice cooker off and leave it to sit for at least 10 minutes.

If you dont have a rice cooker cook some rice with as normal but drain when nearly 90 % cooked.

In an oven proof one pot pan or dish add a layer of half your rice. Drizzle some ghee over the rice. Place your  fish and sauce on top of rice. Sprinkle half the barista. Now add rest of the rice, some more barista. Good drizzle of ghee again. Sprinkle half a cup of water…cover with foil then lid and place in a heated hot oven or stove top for about 5mins. Switch of heat then leave to rest for 10mins.

Serve. If I have Ilish eggs I make Ilish bhoras and serve those at side.

Making the Barista.

Marinating the Ilish

Cooking the Ilish

Prepping and layering rice.

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