Bhapa Ilish/Steamed Fish in Mustard Yogurt Sauce

Bhapa Ilish/Steamed Hilsa

The fish is steamed in a spicy paste of mustard, yogurt and hot green peppers. This is an authentic recipe from home, close to my heart, evoking bountiful thoughts of beautiful times with the recipe and the taste etched in my memories for ever.

I would wait to get that first whiff, when ma would open the container where the Hilsa/Ilish would be cooked. Steaming hot with the smoke blurring the vision while the nose was tickled by the strong sweet flavor of mustard and spices.  The hot white rice impatiently waited for the steamy yellow fish and the sauce to be spooned over it and devoured and licked clean!  Lip smacking good! If the fish had the roe they would be removed carefully and placed on the side of the plate; a treasure to be savored at the end of the meal for Hilsa roe is considered a delicacy.

A place called “home”, where the cuisine is popularly known to revolve around fish and rice and sweets,  Ilish/Hilsa can be called the icon of the Bengali cuisine. No the vegetables are not neglected, nor are the lentils; for they do play some pretty important role in the complex mesh of the Bengali cuisine. However the highlight today is not going to be vegetables. Along with the other varieties of fishes that are consumed in Bengal everyday, the one that is cherished treasure is the Ilish/Hilsa.

Back home Hilsa/Ilish is deep fried, steamed, smoked, baked/steamed in banana leaves, cooked with mustard paste, yogurt, or combined with vegetables like brinjal/eggplant/aubergines. Spices  like Nigella seeds/Kalonji/Kalo Jeera along with mustard oil is used to enhance the flavors of the this fish. “It is said that people can cook hilsa in more than 50 ways.” Hilsa/Ilish can be cooked in very little oil since the fish itself is very oily- a good kind of oil since it is a fish of benefit,  rich with the essential omega 3 fatty acids.

Shad and Herring are near relatives of the Hilsa. In North America (where Hilsa is not always readily available) the Shad is sometimes used as a Hilsa substitute, in the  Bengali cuisine.

Bhapa Ilish/Steamed Fish

Here I have given 3 ways to steam the fish: In the microwave, in the oven,  and in the pressure cooker.

Bhapa Ilish/Steamed Fish in Mustard Yogurt Sauce


  1. 4-5 Hilsa/Ilish Steaks  – each steak about  1/2 – 3/4 inch thick
  2. 3-4 tablespoons pure mustard oil
  3. 3  tablespoons yogurt
  4. 2.5 tablespoons grated coconut
  5. 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon turmeric
  6. 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder (optional)
  7. few green chili, slit for garnish (optional)

For the paste:

  1. 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  2. 1 tablespoon poppy seeds (white)
  3. 3-4 hot green chilli (or as per your taste)
  4. Salt to taste


Preparing the paste:

Soak the ingredients for the paste in 1/4 cup of water for about 30 -45 minutes. Grind the mustard, green chilli  and the poppy seeds with salt to make a thick paste (This paste is called “shorshe bata”; Shorshe=mustard  Bata=ground into a paste).

[Alternate way to make mustard paste : Dry grind the seeds (mustard and poppy) and then mix the powdered seed with about 1/2 teaspoon vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, salt, and green chillies and let it sit for about 30-45 minutes.]

Wash and clean (remove scales) of the fish and cut in steak size pieces or you can have them clean and cut at the place from where you buy the fish (that is what I do).

In a bowl add the  mustard paste, yogurt, mustard oil, coconut, turmeric powder, red chili powder, salt. Mix well or blend them all together in a blender for a few seconds. This is going to be the sauce for the fish. Do not add any extra water.

Combining the sauce and the fish and cooking:

In the microwave (the easiest and the fastest way to cook. This is usually how it is made in my home)

Coat an microwave oven safe container with mustard oil. Place the fish pieces in the bowl in one single layer. Pour the above mustard sauce over the steaks so the sauce covers all of the steaks completely. Add a few slit green chili peppers on the top. Drizzle some more mustard oil on the top if you wish.

Cover with a lid or with a plastic wrap. Cook for 3 minutes; take it out and stir the sauce (do not move the fish around). Put it back in the microwave, cover and cook for 2 more minutes. Uncover, take out, stir; cover and put it back and cook for 2 more minutes. Uncover and cook for 2-3 more minutes. (the cooking time may slightly vary with the power of the microwave).. adjust to your microwave.

In the oven

Coat an oven safe container with  mustard oil. Place the fish pieces in the bowl in one single layer. Pour the above mustard sauce over the steaks so the sauce covers all of the steaks completely. Add a few slit green chili peppers on the top. Drizzle some more mustard oil on the top if you wish.

Preheat the oven to 375 degree F. Cover the container tightly with an aluminum foil and bake for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes remove the foil and bake uncovered for about 15 more minutes.

In the pressure cooker

Coat a container that can be used in the pressure cooker with  mustard oil. Place the fish pieces in the bowl in one single layer. Pour the above mustard sauce over the steaks so the sauce covers all of the steaks completely. Add a few slit green chili peppers on the top. Drizzle some more mustard oil on the top if you wish.

Cover the container  very tightly with a lid (no water should go inside the container while cooking). Place the container in a pool of water (refer to the manual of the cooker to how to steam). Cook in the pressure for about 10 – 15 minutes.

Serve with hot white rice.

Bhapa Ilish/Steamed Fish

Having the Bhapa Ilish is a truly sensuous experience for me. I make sure I get plenty of time to eat. Besides the innumerable bones that the Hilsa has to offer :-), I need that special time to myself to enjoy the taste and the flavor completely.

Related Posts:

Maacher Jhal/Fish in Spicy Sauce

Tandoori Fish

Chingri Maacher Malaikari (Jumbo Shrimps in Cream of Coconut)

Hilsa from other blogs

Bong Mom’s Bhapa Ilish

Sharmila’s Bhapa Ilish

Jaya’s Bhapa Ilish

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37 comments to Bhapa Ilish/Steamed Fish in Mustard Yogurt Sauce

  • This dish is calling me “make me make me”; duly noted!

  • Hi

    I like your website very much, I also have a special Chinese food website, and could we exchange website link each other?
    my website is


  • Cham

    Never tasted fish this way, I am big sucker of seafood! Can I subst the fish with another one like tilapia/salmon? I wish I could taste right away!

  • Since amar maach khawa ekhon baron, it does not matter je tumi prithibir onno pare eto darun ekkhana dish baniyecho. Ami pretend korchi je amio tomar shathe gorom bhaater shathe bhapa ilish enjoy korchi. 🙂
    Thanks for the link. 🙂

  • Ivy

    I am not aware of this fish but it looks delicious.

  • Anh

    This looks so yummy! I like fish curry. !

  • A delicious dish! That is one tasty combination!



  • thanks for this,..gonna be my weekend menu,..

  • It is only morning here andi am drooling over it. So so delcious looking, wish i had this with hot plain rice.

  • Delicious and crave inducing. I am still searching for hilsa with no luck.

  • sra

    Beautiful, it’s saying Come, get me!

  • Wow, this sounds terrific, such wonderful flavors with this sauce!

  • lovely color..delicious looking

  • Sig

    I always drool at the bengali fish recipes, thinking I will try once. But this one I really really want to make, looks that good! Steaming fish in the microwave, that is something I have never even thought of doing.
    By the way, where do you buy the fish from? I don’t remember seeing Shad in regular fish markets here, probably I wasn’t looking properly. Any other readily available fish that you’d recommend with this paste?

    I have bought Shad from Chinese Fish Markets. They are smaller in size than the Hilsa. If you have a Bangladeshi Grocery Store anywhere around, try your luck for frozen Hilsa. They are the best even if they are frozen. The one I buy from, cleans and cuts the fish the way I want it. The Chinese fish markets will do the same.

    I have not tried Herring yet… so don’t know if the fish has the same flavor as Hilsa (Shad does taste very very similar to Hilsa). This dish has a very typical flavor and the flavor and the oil of the Hilsa definitely is a part of itl The sauce is good by itself, but not sure if it will be the same with any other fish. Bengali fresh water fish is cooked in mustard paste (fishes like Rohu/Carp), but I have never tried doing them in the microwave, as the general process with that is to deep fry the fish first and really cook, not steam.

  • Ruma


    The ilish picture is so tempting that I HAD to leave a comment – I live in Dallas and have not been successful locating a good Bangladeshi store that sells good Ilish. Where do you buy yours from?

    Thanks a lot,

    Thanks:-D There is a Bangladeshi grocery store called Star Meat at a small strip mall at the intersection of Spring Creek & Alma. get mine from that store. It is frozen, but good. Hope you do get to buy one!

  • ahh..dekhei khete ichhe korchhe…the snaps r grt…I too prepare Ilish in microwave….Check out here….

  • Thanks for the reply….sorry…it just gone off my mind…hope u didn’t mind….

  • looks so wonderful and tasty! beautiful photos!

  • This sounds like a fantastic meal! I love fish with a spicy sauce, and the paste with green chillis sounds delicious.

  • Have not tried this way of cooking my fish before. Must be very delicious.

  • Jaya

    ki darun hoyecho bhapa ilish , garam bhat er sathe khete bhalo lagbe :)..we too get frozen ilish here ..not as best as fresh like back home but not bad either.frozen ilish khete mondo hoye na ,M/W te kono din ami try kori ni ,because I feel it dries up the masala paste and also the flavour ilish fish steaks has …I prefer cooking overstove top or even baked also but not in M/W …yours looks so so delicious.
    hugs and smiles

  • mohana

    aha…jibey jol elo re…

  • Joy

    Okay this dish looks FANTASTICAL — which is fantastic + magical btw. I have never had this before but the paste sounds amazing, and the fact that it’s steamed makes it even better!

  • I’d love to try this one.

  • I can’t stop drooling here 😉 Looks and sounds wonderful!

  • SS

    Hey Soma.. glad to have found your blog! I didn’t realize there were Bengali recipes here!! This fish is just lovely!!! You must have realized that I lo….ve Bengali food! 😀 Thanks for visiting. I’ll be here often! Cheers!

  • Oh you know my weakness for sauces like these – pure torture.

  • Shaheda

    Hi everyone,

    This recipe looks so good. Growing up in Indian subcontinent, Bhapa Ilish is one of the dishes my mom would make. I live in San Diego, can anyone tell me where I can find Ilish fish fresh or frozen, either is fine.


    Hi there,

    Thanks ! This is a personally run recipe blog. I am in Texas, so I am so sorry I do not know of any place in CA that sells Ilish. But you could look for Bangladeshi Grocery Stores. Some sell very good quality frozen Ilish. That is where we get ours from. It is unlikely that you will get fresh Ilish unless in some Asian Markets they sell fish and Shad is very similar to ilish. They are much smaller in size but tastes the same.

    Hope this helps.


  • Amazing color… I also prepared mustard hilsa, the traditional Bengali way –


  • Danielle

    Made this today…oh my goodness, so tasty! who knew the microwave would cook it so quick and perfectly. I prepared the fish yesterday and it marinated in the mustard gravy for a day. will make again–thanks again for another absolutely amazing Bengali recipe (yours is definitely my favorite site for these)!

    Glad you liked it:-) Yes Ilish is really the easiest to cook in the microwave. Who could have known 15 years back!

  • Thanks for informing abt “Star Meat”. Tomar blog pore aami okhane gechhilam, gota bangladeshi ilish dekhe to aami khub excited hoye gechhilam. Ora ki sundor scales chhariye, porishkar kore, aamar pochhondo moton kete dilo. Dallas e oto bhalo ilish machh pabo aami bhabtei parini.

    Glad that I could help you 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing the recipe – I tried it today and it was simply superb! I made the oven-version and it came out delicious – my first time of making a curry-like item in the oven – am delighted, ofcourse!

    Thanks Pragyan, for trying it out. This is probably the easiest fish curry. 🙂

  • Ritika

    I love yr recipe, but can we use Dijon Mustard instead of mustard seeds.

    I have not used Dijon Mustard (if you mean the ready made mustard paste) to make this recipe. You can sure give it a try, but it will have not have the authentic taste. Here are a few reasons why –

    The fresh ground paste has the “heat” which is vital to this dish
    The Dijon has a very tart/sour taste compared to the fresh ground, which has none except for that little vinegar.
    The Dijon also has a strong smell of turmeric. So do not use the turmeric in the sauce if you are using dijon.

    If you cannot use the seeds, I would recommend using the organic stone ground mustard paste available in the grocery stores. I find the stone ground paste has the “heat”, tho less than fresh ground, but more than Dijon. The texture of the stone ground is better and similar to the fresh ones. Hope this helps. Do let me know how it turns out, if you will use the Dijon.:-)

  • aijoni

    I wanted to know if you de-freeze the fish before putting it in the oven?i bought frozen fish from a bangladeshi store.

    Yes do thaw it. Leaving it in the refrigerator overnight and then for a while outside will help. If you are cooking the frozen fish, it will cook unevenly, esp. in the microwave, though it might do better if steamed in a sealed container.

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  • Masudrana

    each item very sweet.

  • […] are versions of this dish meshing coconut and mustard like Soma’s recipe here. This shared version however has become my weeknight go to. I tried this a couple of time when […]

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