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Steamed Hilsa: 3 Sizzling Recipes

Updated on September 10, 2014
Fresh Ilish or Hilsa fish in a quintessential Bengali market
Fresh Ilish or Hilsa fish in a quintessential Bengali market | Source

3 To-Die-For Recipes of Hilsa

For days I was contemplating on telling you guys about my recent venture. Now let me open up. For days I have thought of penning down the venture that I took upon myself, i.e; making the perfect steamed Hilsa.

Well this is definitely a venture on my part, given where I live (Texas).

Just like any other Bong, from childhood I am a die-gard fan of Hilsa fish. Hilsa is popular among Bongs for its taste. The fish rich in omega 3 fatty acid has also great health benefits. But that does not mean we Bengalis consume Hilsa merely for its health benefits. We simply love its aroma and its mouthwatering unique taste. For us Bongs it is "Macher Raja", the King of Fish.

Hilsa basically lives in sea. But two times in the year it comes to the river or the estuaries to lay eggs. It is the female fish caught during this time that can be of excellent taste. We have to keep in mind that female Hlsa tastes better than male ones as also those caught in the river are tastier than those caught in the sea.

It is said a Bong can cook Hilsa in almost 50 ways. The steamed methods being the most popular ones. Given the soft buttery texture of the fish, steaming the fish brings out the right taste. Noyhing can be more tempting than a plate of rice and steamed Hilsa for a true blue Bong.

As I was saying before that it is almost like a venture to me given the part of world where I live. For cooking the delicious steamed Hilsa the main requirement is the fresh caught Hilsa which is impossible to get here in Texas. Still this time when I went to the Bangladeshi store to buy fish I was bewitched by the recently imported glistening silvery white Hilsas that were beautifying their freezer. Without thinking much I bought one fish whose weight was around 1 kg 250 grams. I made it cut into large steak pieces and came happily home. Given the enormous steak sizes and eggs stuffed in it I felt, "Yes this is the right kind to make the ideal steamed Hilsa." (Although I was bit skeptical that the fish was a frozen one...) Still I managed to get over my skepticism and thought of giving it a try.

You already know that although now my parents are staying in Kolkata but my ancestors originally hail from Bangladesh. Bangladesh being the hub of Hilsa fish has different recipes Steamed Hilsa. My Ma knows a few of them. Here I will discuss three of my favorite Ma's special steamed Hilsa Recipes with slight modifications of my own that will guarantee sizzle your tastebuds with their piquant tastes.

**Oh! one thing I forgot to say. I was unnecessarily skeptic. Even though the fish was available in frozen form, it was exceptionally tasty. Reminds me of the Gangetic Hilsa that we relished in our Kolkata home. So next time if I can again catch a glimpse of one such beautiful specimen at our local Bangaldeshi store I am sure to buy it without giving a second thought.

O Hail Hilsa! You Are My King Of Fish!

Hilsa steaks smeared with salt and turmeric powder
Hilsa steaks smeared with salt and turmeric powder | Source

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Steamed Hilsa in Thick Mustard Sauce a.k.a Ilish Shorshe Bhapa

Steamed Hilsa in Mustard Sauce in a bed of cooked Basmati rice
Steamed Hilsa in Mustard Sauce in a bed of cooked Basmati rice | Source

Cooking Time

Prep Time: 10 min Cook Time: 35 min Ready in: 45 min

Yields: Serves 2 people

Ingredients

  • 2 pieces Hilsa Fish, steak size
  • 1 tablespoon Black Mustard Seeds
  • 4 tablespoons Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 3 to 4 Green Chilies, slit
  • 1 teaspoon Turmeric Powder
  • according to taste Salt
  • 1 pinch Sugar
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons Mustard Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Kasundi

Instructions

  1. Wash the fish steaks and pat it dry. Now smear them with a pinch of salt and turmeric powder and leave them for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Soak mustard seeds in water from beforehand for about 1 hour with pinch of salt, turmeric powder and green chili. In a grinder add the soaked mustard seeds and grind it into a smooth paste.
  3. In the meantime start boiling water in a deep bottomed vessel. In a separate bowl mix together the prepared mustard paste, yogurt, turmeric powder, chili powder, green chilies, salt, sugar, kasundi and mustard oil. Beat them well into a smooth paste.
  4. Next, take a wok. Place the marinated fish steaks in the wok. Cover it with the prepared paste and finally drizzle a little bit of mustard oil on top.
  5. By this time the water is boiling well in the vessel. Carefully place the wok inside the vessel. (Keep in mind that the vessel should be slightly bigger than the wok. You also have to be careful with the amount of water you put inside the vessel. Be careful that the water should not spill out of the vessel once the wok is immersed in it.) Now tightly cover the wok with a lid. (Place a heavy object on top of the lid so that no vapor escapes out of the lid.) Continue steaming on medium heat.
  6. After 30 minutes remove the lid of the wok. Pierce a knife inside one of the steak to see how well it is cooked. If it comes out clean(just like a cake) then it is very well cooked.
  7. Now you can place the wok on direct medium heat for around 5 minutes to dry up the curry a little bit. When the curry has dried up enough and oil starts surfacing up, switch off the heat. But before turning of the heat add 1 or 2 more slit green chili and drizzle an extra shot of mustard oil for that extra tang. Keep it covered with lid closed on top of the oven for few more minutes(known as Standing Time). After sometime serve this extra hot buttery soft Shorshe Bhapa Ilish in a bed of steamed Basmati Rice as seen in the above picture.

Steamed Hilsa in Yogurt Sauce a.k.a Doi Ilish

Love Triangle of Steamed Hilsa Fish Steaks in Yogurt Sauce
Love Triangle of Steamed Hilsa Fish Steaks in Yogurt Sauce | Source

Cooking Time

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 35 min
Ready in: 45 min
Yields: Serves 3 people

Ingredients

  • 3 pieces Hilsa Fish, steak size
  • 4 tablespoons Plain Greek Yogurt
  • according to taste Salt
  • 1 pinch Sugar
  • 1 pinch Turmeric Powder, very little
  • 1 and half teaspoon Cumin Powder
  • half teaspoon Coriander Powder
  • 1 pinch Red Chili Powder, very little
  • 4 tablespoon Mustard Oil
  • 3 to 4 Green Chilies, slit

Instructions

  1. Wash the fish steaks and pat it dry. Now smear them with a pinch of salt and turmeric powder and leave them for at least 10 minutes.
  2. In the meantime start boiling water in a deep bottomed vessel. In a separate bowl mix together yogurt, turmeric powder(almost negligible), cumin powder, coriander powder, chili powder, green chilies, salt, sugar and mustard oil. Beat them well into a smooth paste.
  3. Next, take a wok. Place the marinated fish steaks in the wok. Cover it with the prepared paste and finally pour a little bit of mustard oil on top.
  4. By this time the water is boiling well in the vessel. Carefully place the wok inside the vessel. (Keep in mind that the vessel should be slightly bigger than the wok. You also have to be careful with the amount of water you put inside the vessel. Be careful that the water should not spill out of the vessel once the wok is immersed in it.) Now tightly cover the wok with a lid. (Place a heavy object on top of the lid so that no vapor escapes out of the lid.) Continue steaming on medium heat.
  5. After 30 minutes remove the lid of the wok. Pierce a knife inside one of the steak to see how well it is cooked. If it comes out clean(just like a cake) then it is very well cooked.
  6. Now you can place the wok on medium direct heat for around 5 minutes to dry up the curry a little bit. When the curry has dried up enough, the oil starts surfacing up. Your Doi Ilish is prepared. Serve it hot with steamed Basmati. Out of the world lunch experience for sure!

Hot And Sour Steamed Hilsa a.k.a Tok Jhaal Bhapa Ilish

The pungent Hot and Sour Steamed Hilsa
The pungent Hot and Sour Steamed Hilsa | Source

Cooking Time

Prep Time: 10 min Cook Time: 35 min Ready in: 45 min

Yields: Serves 2 people

Ingredients

  • 2 pieces Hilsa Fish, steak size
  • half tablespoon Black Mustrad Seeds
  • half tablespoon Poppy Seeds
  • half Onion, diced
  • half Tomato, diced
  • 1 pod Garlic, finely grated
  • 3 to 4 Green Chili, slit
  • 1 teaspoon Green Chili Pickle
  • 1 teaspoon Turmeric Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • according to taste Salt
  • 1 pinch Sugar
  • a handful Coriander Leaves
  • 4 tablespoons Mustard Oil

Instructions

  1. Step 1 same as the previous ones.
  2. Soak mustard seeds and poppy seeds in water from beforehand for about 1 hour with pinch of salt, turmeric powder and green chili. In a grinder add the soaked seeds and grind it into a smooth paste.
  3. In the meantime start boiling water in a deep bottomed vessel. In a separate bowl mix together onion, tomato, green chilies, green chili pickle, prepared poppy-mustard paste, turmeric powder, chili powder, salt, sugar and grated garlic. Blend well.
  4. Next, take a wok. Place the marinated fish steaks in the wok. Cover it with the prepared paste and finally pour a little bit of mustard oil on top.
  5. By this time the water is boiling well in the vessel. Carefully place the wok inside the vessel. (Keep in mind that the vessel should be slightly bigger than the wok. You also have to be careful with the amount of water you put inside the vessel. Be careful that the water should not spill out of the vessel once the wok is immersed in it.) Now tightly cover the wok with a lid. (Place a heavy object on top of the lid so that no vapor escapes out of the lid.) Continue steaming on medium heat.
  6. After 30 minutes remove the lid of the wok. Pierce a knife inside one of the steak to see how well it is cooked. If it comes out clean(just like a cake) then it is very well cooked.
  7. Now you can place the wok on medium direct heat for around 5 minutes to dry up the curry a little bit. When the curry has dried up enough, the oil starts surfacing up. Before turning off the heat sprinkle the handful of coriander leaves and keep the wok in Standing Time for few extra minutes. Finally serve this hot and tangy Tok Jhaal Bhapa Ilish that will tingle your tastebuds like anything.

Which Recipe Did You Like Most

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A Final Note

I have penned down three of my three most favorite steamed Hilsa recipes. The method I used for steaming is quite an old one and obviously time consuming.

You can do achieve almost same results faster by:

  • Steaming Hilsa in a tiffin box inside a pressure cooker. The whistle should not be attached. Time to cook should be almost 30 minutes. This method is quite similar to my very own method of steaming.
  • By microwaving. It has the shortest cooking time. Microwave time will be around 8 minutes total. At the fourth minute pause the microwave and gently flip the fish. Continue microwaving. After 8 minutes your dish is prepared.
  • By baking in the oven. Bake it at 350 degree Fahrenheit covered for first 15 minutes. Then bake it uncovered for the next ten minutes.

I personally have never tried the microwave method(someday I wish to try it), though I have once tried the oven method. If you are short of time go on for the microwave method or the oven method. But my personal preference will always be the old method. I don't know (it might be my fancy...) but I feel my Hilsa excels in taste in my good old steaming method rather than in any other short-cut ways.

Happy Cooking Guys!

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    • profile image

      Abhrajit Bhattacharjee 

      2 years ago from New Delhi

      The recipe with that of thick mustard sauce was really great

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