Ilish Polao

How to make delicious Ilish Polao || ilish pulao

Ilish Polao, a delightful rice dish, holds a special place in the hearts of Bangladeshi and West Bengali communities, particularly during weddings, festivals, and family gatherings. Fragrant Basmati rice harmoniously blends with succulent Hilsa fish (Ilish in Bengali), accompanied by a medley of spices and aromatics like bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and saffron.

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The Art of Crafting Ilish Polao Flavorful Layers

To prepare Ilish Polao, begin by soaking the rice in water, allowing it to absorb moisture for separate and fluffy grains. Next, marinate the Hilsa fish in spices, frying it to a golden brown. Layer the fish with the rice in a traditional pot or handi. Seal it tightly, then cook on low heat until the rice fully absorbs the flavors, resulting in a delectable fusion.

Ilish Polao is often served with a side of raita (a yogurt-based condiment), chutney, and fried onions. It is a flavorful and aromatic dish that is sure to be a hit with seafood lovers and fans of Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine.

Traditional Hilsa Fish and Rice Dish

Portion: 01
Preparation time: 30 min
Cook time: 45 min

Hilsa is renowned as the “Queen of fishes” and it’s the National fish of Bangladesh as well. Ilish (Hilsa fish) is very popular in South Asia, especially among Bengalis and Odiyas. In North America, Hilsa is not always available. It is also popular in Andhra Pradesh (India) and is called Pulasa in Telegu. It is popular among Sindhis as well. In short, hilsa is one of the most beloved fishes in Indian and Bangladeshi community.


  • 4 pieces Hilsa fish (Ilish mach)
  • ½ cup Yogurt (Dahi)
  • 1 tablespoon Ginger-Garlic paste
  • ½ teaspoon Cumin powder (Jeera powder)
  • 1 teaspoon Red chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon Salt

To prepare Beresta (Crispy fried onion)

  • 2 large Onions, thin sliced
  • ½ cup oil to deep fry the onions

Other ingredients for the Ilish pulao

  • 2 cups kalijira chal (Small grain rice)
  • 2 medium Onion paste, for the hilsa gravy
  • 1 small onion, sliced for the pulao
  • 6 green Chillies
  • 1 Bay leaf (Tejpatta)
  • 4 Cardamoms (Elaichi)
  • 4 Cloves (Laung)
  • 2 inches Cinnamon stick (Dalchini)
  • 2 teaspoons Sugar
  • Salt according to taste
  • 2½ tablespoons Mustard oil, to cook the hilsa gravy
  • 1 tablespoon Ghee (Clarified butter), to cook the pulao
  • 2 tablespoons Oil (Beresta fried oil), to cook the pulao
  • 4 cups hot Water, to cook the pulao


  1. First wash the Kalijira chaal 3-4 times until the water gets clear. Then strain the excess water with a strainer and keep it aside to become air dry.
  2. Cut and clean the Ilish mach (Hilsa fish) and marinate them with ½ cup yogurt, 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon cumin powder, and 1 teaspoon chilli powder. Coat the fish pieces evenly. Cover the fish and keep it aside for 30 minutes.
  3. Put a pan on fire and allow it to become completely dry. Then add ½ cup of oil to the pan and allow it to become hot.
  4. Once the oil is hot, add a thinly sliced onion to the pan and fry it over medium heat till crispy golden brown. Then strain the excess oil and transfer the crispy fried onions (Beresta) to a separate plate. Keep it aside.
  5. Add chunks of two medium-sized onions into the jar of a grinder and close the lid of the jar. Pulse it into a smooth paste. If you like a spicy taste, then you can add 2-3 green chilies into the paste as well.
  6. Put another pan on fire and allow it to become completely dry.
  7. Add 2½ tablespoons of mustard oil to the pan and allow it to become hot.

Cooking Fish

  1. Once the oil is hot, add the onion paste (Step 5) to the pan and give it a nice stir. Cook it on a high flame for 2 minutes, then put the flame on medium-low and cook it for another 5 minutes until the onion paste releases oil.
  2. In the meantime, separate the hilsa pieces from the marination (the spicy yogurt mixture) and keep it on a separate plate.
  3. Add the hilsa pieces carefully to the pan and close the lid of the pan. Cook it on a low flame for 5 minutes.
  4. After 5 minutes, add 1/3rd of the Beresta (Step 4) and sprinkle some salt into the pan.
  5. Flip the delicate fish pieces very carefully and put the flame on the lowest setting. Cover the pan and cook it for another 5 minutes.

Cooking Pulao

  1. Switch off the flame and keep the hilsa pieces and 2 tablespoons of gravy on a separate plate. Collect the rest of the gravy into a separate bowl and keep it aside for further use in preparing pulao.
  2. Take a pan and add 2 tablespoons of beresta fried oil and 1 tablespoon of ghee to it.
  3. Add the whole spices—2 inches of cinnamon stick, 4 cloves, 4 cardamoms, and 1 bay leaf—and let them crackle.
  4. Add the sliced onion and green chilies to the pan and fry them for 3–4 minutes on medium heat.
  5. Add the chinigura rice (Step 1) into the pan and fry it on medium-high flame for 6–8 minutes until the rice becomes opaque and a sound comes during the stirring. Stir the mixture continuously. This step takes some time to get the rice fried properly, but you need to be patient at this point.


  1. Add the separated hilsa gravy (Step 14) into the pan and cook it for another couple of minutes on medium-low flame.
  2. Add 4 cups of hot water to the pan. Always use double the amount of hot water for rice to prepare the pulao.
  3. Add salt and sugar and give it a gentle stir.
  4. Cover the pan and cook it over medium heat for 5–6 minutes, till the rice becomes visible.
  5. Put the flame on low and sprinkle the remaining Beresta, aka fried onions (Step 4), on top. Add green chilies to the pan.
  6. Add the hilsa pieces to the pan over the rice very carefully.
  7. Cover the pan and cook it on the lowest flame for another 10 minutes. Then switch off the flame and don’t disturb the pan for another 15 minutes.
  8. Take off the lid of the pan and carefully take out the ilish pieces onto a separate plate. Then fluff the rice either with a fork or pour the ilish pulao into a separate large mixing bowl, or else the rice may stick to each other while sitting in the hot pan. I always prefer the second way to fluff the pulao.

Serving Instrustion

Serve the portions of Ilish pulao with hilsa fishes on serving plates. Serve hot or warm to enjoy the best taste. It does not require any side to relish and enjoy the eternal taste of this Bengali recipe.

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