Tilapia Steamed in Mustard Yogurt Sauce

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Last month, I made Ina Garten’s Tuscan Lemon Chicken from Food Network. I wanted to try this recipe for quite some time and U was very reluctant. One fine day he gave in! To our surprise, the recipe turned out awesome! It tasted like a rotisserie chicken but very tender and juicy.  Since then, he has been asking me to try out some new recipes and I could not find any recipe that he would like.  I told him about this Bengali fish I was thinking of trying, but do not have the recipe.  From what I remembered, the fish is seasoned with mustard powder, green chili paste and few more spices and steamed in a banana leaf.  He wanted me to give it try.  So I went ahead and marinated the fish that morning in mustard powder, green chilies, ginger garlic paste,  salt and onion paste.  I did not have banana leaves and was not sure how to cook it.  I was thinking of either baking it or steaming it in idli moulds.   Come dinner time, we were not in mood for an experiment and grilled the fish with some tandoori powder. Surprising the fish turned out good and I liked the mustard flavor of the fish.  I will share this concocted grilled mustard fish recipe very soon.

U was in Calcutta (Kolkata) for six months before coming to the US.  When I told U that the grilled fish I made was a fusion of Bengali and Mugalai cuisines, he said Bengali’s prepare very good fish and that he had tasted some of the best fish curries during his stay in Calcutta.  So began the quest for Bengali Fish recipes!  Since I liked the mustard flavor in my concocted fish recipe, I was looking for a mustard flavored recipe. Most of the mustard flavored fish called for Hilsa, which is a Bengali delicacy.  Then the hunt for Hilsa began and a bengali friend gave me the address to the store  where she gets her Hilsa from.  My first Hilsa preparation  was Doi Ilish from Bong Mom’s Cookbook.   It was yummy and Hilsa is a very tasty fish!  However, we found it very difficult to debone the fish.  I grew up eating filleted fish and I always cook fish fillets.  So I decided to substitute Hilsa with a fillet of Tilapia or Salmon, next time I prepare a bengali fish delicacy!  I have bookmarked a few recipes and one of those is Bhapa Ilish, which would be a perfect entry for Nupur’s Blog Bites: Cookers.

Before I go any further, let me warn you that this is a lengthy post and if you wish to jump to the recipe, go here and to learn about my pressure cookers here and rice cookers here .

Nupur started a new blog event called Blog Bites, inspired by MBP, Monthly Blog Patrol, a food event which was very popular.  No one as hosted it in almost a year.  The concept behind the event was, every month, we patrol the food blogs and cook something from fellow bloggers space that fits the theme of the month.  I loved that event and it was a good way to try out new recipes from other  blogs.  Blog Bites is based on similar concept and this month’s theme for Blog Bites is cookers.  Bhapa Ilish is cooked in a pressure cooker and that is my entry for this month’s Blog Bites.  Nupur also wants to know how many cookers we own and how we use this appliance in our daily cooking.  I am a proud owner of 6 cookers, 3  rice cookers and 3 pressure cookers!

I have 3 rice cookers, a 10 cup Sanyo rice cooker, a 5 cup Sanyo rice cooker and a 3 cup Panasonic rice cooker.  My first rice cooker is a 10 cup cooker.  I bought it when I first came here.  I  bought a big one, hoping to entertain a lot of guests and my family knows how many guest we entertained when we first moved here.  None! 🙁  3-4 months later, my 10 cup cooker malfunctioned and had to send it for repair.  Meantime, I bought a 5 cup cooker as the 10 cup one was too big to cook just 2 cups of rice!  Since then, I have been using my 5 cup cooker almost every day and the 10 cup cooker sits in my attic most of the time.  The only time I pull out my big rice cooker is when I have more than 3-4 guests or when I make biryani in the rice cooker. Few years later, I saw a 3 cup rice cooker and which seemed more ideal for a family of two and bought the Panasonic 3 cup Rice Cooker.  5 cup and the 3 cup cookers are the ones I use frequently and very convenient to cook rice in it.

Coming to pressure cookers, the first pressure cooker I owned is the Prestige pressure pan.   My mom uses her pressure pan to cook dal and also some vegetables.  So it made sense to by a pressure pan and brought it with me when I first came to the US.   Back then, its primary purpose end up being cooking dal.  Few years later, during my visit to India, I saw this cute 2 litres Hawkins pressure cooker and fell in love with its size.  There was a 1 litre cooker too, not in Hawkins though, but it did not seem practical to buy such a tiny one.  So bought this 2 litres Hawkins and has become the most used pressure cooker in my kitchen!  I use it at least 2-4 times a week, depending on what I cook.  I use it primarily to cook dals, legumes and goat meat.  This little cooker is so handy and perfect for a family of 2!  After we moved to Philadelphia, we started getting more visitors and at times, both the pressure pan the pressure cooker were too small to cook for a larger gathering.  Thats when I decided to buy the third cooker, 6.5 litre Prestige pressure cooker with cooking vessels.  Soon after I bought the bigger cooker, we moved to NY and never used it in Philadelphia.  It is ironic that although we get lot more visitors and guests in New York, I don’t use my big cooker as often as I had hoped to use it!  I some how seems to be managing just fine with the two smaller cookers.  I think I use the 6.5 liter cooker once or twice, or at the most thrice a year!  This pressure cooker, along with the 10 cup rice cooker rest in my top most cabinet shelf, waiting for their turn to service me!

I have rambled a lot today and thank you for reading it so patiently!   Today’s recipe is Bhapa Ilish or Bhapa Tilapia, as I substituted Ilish or Hilsa with Tilapia.   I modified the recipe a little for my convenience and also to my liking.  I used mustard powder and poppy seeds powder instead of mustard seeds and poppy seeds.  The recipe called for soaking both the seeds in water and then grinding it to fine paste.  Since I  had powders of these two seeds, I used them instead.  I substituted mustard oil with olive oil as I did not have mustard oil in my pantry.  Also, I used more yogurt than the recipe called for because we like lot of gravy or sauce and I felt the original recipe might not yield as much sauce as we would like.  I made this fish just before sunset and could not click good pictures. I took a few pictures the next day with left over fish from previous night.

Recipe Source: Indrani
Total Time: 25 – 35 minutes
Preparing Time: 20 – 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 5 – 10 minutes
Serves: 2 – 3

Print Recipe


3 Tilapia Fillets or 0.85 lbs Tilapia Fillets
1 -2 tsp Turmeric Powder
2 tbsp Mustard Seeds Powder
2 tsp Poppy Seeds Powder
8 Green Chilies (3 for paste and 5 slit into 2 pieces)
2 tbsp dry Dessicated Coconut (I did not have fresh so used dry)
2 tbsp Yogurt
3 tbsp Olive Oil divided into 1 tbsp and 2 tbsp
Salt to taste

  • Cut each fillet vertically into 2 pieces and cat each piece into 2 or 3 smaller pieces depending on the size of each fillet. There should be 12 – 18 pieces.
  • Marinate the fish with little salt and turmeric powder. Recipe calls for marinating it for 30 minutes but I marinated it for about 5, just until I prepared the marinade for the fish.  I was racing with the sun to cook the fish before the sunset, to get some good pictures. 🙂
  • I had some mustard powder and poppy seeds powder in my spice rack. I used those powders for this recipe. I usually grind some mustards in a coffee/spice grinder and store in my spice rack. I do the same with the poppy seeds too, although I seldom use these seeds in my cooking. The recipe calls for soaking the poppy and mustard seeds in little water for half an hour and then grinding it to paste with green chilies, coconut and salt.
  • Grind to paste 3 green chilies, desiccated coconut, salt, mustard powder and poppy seeds powder using as little water as possible.
  • Add yogurt, turmeric powder and salt (be careful with the salt, we already marinated the fish with little salt and also added a little while grinding the paste) to the prepared paste.
  • Rub this mustard yogurt paste to the fish.
  • In a pressure cooker safe bowl, apply some oil and spread the fish in a single layer. Drizzle 2 tbsp of oil and add the slit green chilies. I used a stainless container, actually a used stainless steel spice box to steam the fish. I have spare spice or masala box which I am not using. I removes the spice containers and used the box, since it has a lid too.
  • Marinate the fish for 10-15 minutes.
  • In a pressure cook, fill some water, about 1 – 2 cup, and place the marinated fish bowl or vessel in it and cover the vessel. The steaming bowl or vessel should be immersed in water until half way.  I used my pressure pan here.
  • Cover the cooker and cook for 4 whistles. Indrani says it should be cooked for 2-3 whistles or about 10 minutes in medium flame.
  • I cooked it for 3 whistles and was not sure if it was cooked. The fish was cooked but was not sure about the sauce.
  • I covered it again and cooked for one more whistle. Let the cooker cool and serve the fish hot, with rice.  By the time I cooked the fish, the sun had set and hence an unappetizing picture! 🙁
  • Just like oven temperatures vary from oven to oven, cooking time for a pressure cooker vary from cooker to cooker. Please use your discretion.
  • If one is not used to eating too much mustard, use it sparingly the first time. My body doesn’t take mustard very well. The fish was tasty and enjoyed the fish. But later on, I had some heart burn and hey feverish symptoms. Nonetheless, the next time I make this fish, I will use the same amount of mustard!
  • Variation might be cutting back a little on mustard and substituting it with little bit of chili powder or more green chilies.

9 thoughts on “Tilapia Steamed in Mustard Yogurt Sauce

  1. Thank you so much for your entry and for taking the time to participate! I loved hearing your cooker stories, and you own a record number of them 🙂

  2. Yum! this has been on my to do list for a long time too. I am planning on using the Dijon Mustard though. Will keep your advice in mind and start with a small amount.

    I have only one rice cooker but around 5 pressure cookers one of each size.

    Using Dijon Mustard is a nice idea! I have not thought of it…. I will try it too, next time I make this fish.

  3. Hi, thanks for trying my recipe..it came out really nice…next time if possible, try with grounded poppy and mustard seeds and use mustard oil, as all these blend well with mustard oil the best..Hilsa is a very soft fish, so cooks very fast, But Tilapia it must need more than 4 whistles, I think

    I will try it mustard oil and grounded mustard seeds the next time.

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