Steamed Hilsa In Mustard Sauce

Hilsa or Ilish/Tenualosa ilisha is best known as a Bengali delicacy but the love for the same with us non-Bengalis in north-eastern India is no less! It is an oily fish rich in Omega 3 acids which make it such a joy to cook and gorge on. Although cooking it in mustard is truly the best way we also like to have it fried or team it up with vegetables, and also cook it in a light gravy with pepper, sliced onions and green chillies.

Clockwise: a)the pieces, b) rubbed with the mustard/poppy paste and
the rest of the spices, c)out of the oven, d) just before going into it.

For twelve pieces of hilsa you’ll need:
3 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 medium-size onion, grated
10 -12 green chillies, slit in the middle but not halved
Mustard oil
Hot water for the oven tray

  • Soak the mustard and poppy seeds in separate bowls for about an hour or so in enough water to cover them. Then grind the seeds to a fine paste. Keep aside.
  • Preheat the oven.
  • Rub the fish pieces with salt and turmeric.
  • Transfer the ground paste to a large bowl, add the chilli powder and the grated onions and mix well. 
  • Add the fish and make sure that they are well-coated in the spice mix. 
  • Pour some mustard oil (I must have used about 100 ml) and gently mix again.
  • Pour a little bit of the oil in the dish in which the fish will be cooked. (This works like greasing a cake tin):)Then place the fish pieces on the dish along with all the masala. Cover with foil.
  • Pour the hot water in the oven tray till nearly halfway, place the dish and cook at 190 degrees C for 25 minutes.
  • Then remove the foil and let the dish remain in the residual heat for another five minutes or so.
  • Remove from the oven. It is now ready to be served with steaming hot rice.

The dish has very little gravy and I did not add any water because some liquid from washing the fish remains. Grinding the mustard and poppy seeds need additional water. And to rinse out the grinder a bit more water is added. All this adds up and the result is a gravy that is just enough and just right. This dish turned out to be most delicious. Even better than the one I made last week (shown in the picture below) which had less turmeric in it. But everything else was the same.

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