Bhapa Ilish is a delicacy in Bengali cuisine. Translating to Steamed Hilsa fish, this dish takes very minimal effort to prepare and gets ready in 15 minutes. Paired with white rice, it is a feast to most Bengalies.
What is Bhapa Ilish (Steamed Hilsa)
Bhapa means steamed and Ilish is Hilsa fish. We always prepare this dish with the pungent mustard sauce. We add fresh green chili for flavor and heat, along with turmeric powder for the gorgeous yellow color.
Hilsa fish or Ilish maach is an acquired taste, and it takes skill to enjoy a fish that is filled with so many tiny bones. Most of us Bengalies learn that skill at a very early age.
In the past, I have prepared the same dish with tilapia fillet and while it didn't taste exactly the same, it was still delicious. So, if you can't find Ilish maach, or want to avoid fish with bones in, give the dish a try with any variety of white fish.
Ingredients you need for Ilish Bhapa
Hilsa fish filet - Hilsa fish is very popular in Bangladesh and in Western part of India. It is mostly available during winter season. If you live in India, chances are you will find it in most fish markets. If you live outside India, look for Bangladeshi stores in your area. They sell this fish in whole and sliced in the frozen aisle.
Mustard Seeds - This dish cannot be prepared with store bought mustard sauce. You need to make the mustard paste at home. It is a mix of yellow and black mustard seeds.
Salt, sugar and turmeric powder - The dish doesn't call for any other spices other than salt and sugar for seasoning and turmeric powder for the vibrant yellow shade.
Coconut and Yogurt - A small amount of coconut and yogurt is added to the mustard sauce to add a subtle sweetness and creaminess to the texture. Some even likes to add white poppy seeds.
Mustard oil - The key of this dish is the beautiful flavor blend of mustard with Hilsa fish. Along with mustard paste, you also add mustard oil to enhance the pungent taste.
Green Chili - Fresh green chili plays a very important role in this dish, as it helps to add the heat that balances beautifully with the mustard paste. Without green chili in the mustard paste, it will taste quite bland.
Steps to prepare the dish
- Soak the mustard seeds in water for an hour to 2 hours.
- Then drain most of the water and blend it with salt, sugar, green chili and turmeric powder.
3. Once the mustard paste looks smooth, add the coconut flakes and blend again.
4. Now take a container that you can use to steam. Preferably, a stainless steel will work best. I have used a can pan here. To that add the yogurt along with the mustard paste and whisk to mix everything.
5. Add mustard oil and whisk one last time.
6. Add the fish fillets and massage it around. Leave it aside for 20 minutes.
7. Add a few slices of green chili, and drizzle a little more mustard oil.
8. Steam for 10 minutes and enjoy it warm with steamed white rice.
This Bengali classic fish dish tastes best when prepared fresh and enjoyed warm. Keeping in the fridge and then reheating will lose some of that refreshing pungent aroma.
Yes, you can make this dish even in microwave, and it will cook much faster too. It will take roughly 5 minutes for 3 fillets, as shown here. The steps will remain the same. You have to use a microwavable container and cover it with a microwave food cover or a clear wrap.
You can prepare this dish with any kind of fish you like. You can use different varieties of fresh lake water fish and also sea fish like basa or tilapia.
Store bought mustard sauce will not work for this recipe. But to make it easy, you can buy store bought mustard powder and use that instead. I have heard few brands available in India, works like wonder and tastes amazing.
Hilsa fish has quality fatty acids and Omega-3 that prevent heart diseases. It is is one of the few fishes that is quite famous for its incredibly soft meat.
Hilsa fish does have that extra fishy smell which can be off putting for many, but that extra fishy smell is the sign of good quality Hilsa.
Enjoy Bhapa Ilish soon after you make it. Enjoy with hot steamed white rice, and drizzle a bit more mustard oil on top. The dish is a delicacy, it is an acquired taste and might sound weird to many, but if you enjoy seafood, do give this dish a try.
Try these authentic Bengali recipes
Shorshe Maach / Tilapia in Mustard Sauce
- 3 Hilsa fish fillets
- 2 tablespoon Yellow mustard seeds
- 2 tablespoon Black mustard seeds
- 4 green chilies
- ¼ cup Plain thick yogurt
- 3 tbs Mustard oil
- 1 teaspoon Turmeric powder
- ½ tablespoon Sugar
- Salt to taste
- Soak the mustard seeds for an hour and then drain most of the water.
- To the mustard seeds, add 1 or 2 chili, based on how hot the chilies are, salt, sugar and turmeric powder. Blend to a smooth consistency. Add a little water if needed.
- Add the coconut flakes and blend again.
- Take a steel container or a cake pan that you can place inside your instant to steam, or inside a big sauce pan with a stand to steam.
- To the pan add the yogurt along with the mustard paste and whisk. Pour half of the mustard oil and whisk again.
- Layer the fish fillet and massage the sauce all around. Then leave it aside for 15 minutes.
- Just before you steam the fish, drizzle a bit more mustard oil, and a few green chilies.
- Steam for 10 minutes. You can also microwave by placing in a microwave container and cover it with a clear wrap. It will take roughly 5 minutes in the microwave.
- Once done, drizzle bit more mustard oil and serve it warm with steamed white rice.