My journey into the Bangladeshi cuisine started with making Kasundi and learning about one of its most popular dishes Shorshe Ilish, hilsa shad in mustard sauce. I found that Ilish is a species of fish in the herring family, and a popular food fish in South Asia.
Google search shows American shad is the best alternative and is used as an ilish substitute in the U.S. It seams like in some regions, where demand for this fish is growing, it is possible to find it in stores in May-June. Apparently, it is also available as fishbait in Southern states. Some think it’s worth the trouble of finding American shad to get as close as possible to the authentic taste and texture of Shorshe Ilish dish. The rest of the craving crowd doesn’t bother and substitutes ilish with another fatty and easily available fish, salmon.
I shopped around, talked to a few fishmongers in ATX, and ended up choosing salmon as well. Fresh loup de mer, almost always available at Central Market (imported from Greece), worked as well.
Just like some other ethnic recipes in my collection, this one is not authentic. I think of it as some sort of bridge between West and East for mustard aficionados.
I’ve read and watched videos of many Shorshe Ilish recipes, authentic and signature variations. I’ve also read comments, paying attention to those that claim “it’s not shorshe ilish!”.
In general, reviewers are more tolerant to differences in ingredients lists. It looks like using onions, garlic, and sometime tomatoes and ginger doesn’t destroy the integrity of this dish. Although, onion and garlic are often not used in cooking for religious reasons. There are three possible liquid components for the sauce — water, yoghurt, or coconut milk — chosen per personal taste and diet preferences. Cooking methods, on the other hand, seem to be more important. If I am not mistaken, number one method is two-step: mustard sauce is cooked until oil separates and than fish is cooked in it. Number two is a variation when fish is covered with sauce and steamed (bhapa) or baked tightly covered (steamed, but in its own juices). I tried both — there is a huge difference in final taste, but I like them equally. The first cooking method makes all flavors more concentrated with pronounced note of sweetness. The second is extremely good for salmon, because its refreshing notes nicely pair with fatty fish — very good hot or cold, makes an exciting appetizer.
When available, I use Indian hot green chilies, when not — Thai. I fry whole peppers in mustard oil when tempering spices — they release a lot of flavor and just a little bit of their heat making dish very mild. I also double the amount of my homemade Aam Kasundi and use it instead of basic mustard paste, so the mustard flavor here is gentle, не “вырви глаз.”