Fish Curry with Vinegar


As I’ve noted before, I’m not a big fan of salmon in Bengali fish preparations. Its flavour is a bit too strong in my opinion—or maybe it’s just too unfamiliar for me in those flavour contexts. I have far less cognitive dissonance using it in preparations that come out of the broad South Indian palette, however, especially with some coconut milk in the mix. This recipe does not use coconut milk (though you could add some for a variation) but salmon works very well here too.

This is also a recipe that comes together very easily. There’s a bit of a backlash these days online against “ethnic” recipes being presented as simple and so forth in the US. I’m sympathetic to the impulse there: the simplification of complex dishes is rarely a good idea to begin with and when applied to dishes from cuisines outside the mainstream it can also signal a refusal to take those cuisines seriously. That said, working Indians also make dishes that are optimized for simplicity—whether traditional or contemporary—and this one is a fish curry I can pull together in 30 minutes after getting home in the evening after a faculty meeting. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs salmon fillets (or fish of choice) cut into 6-8 pieces
  • 1 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tspn grated ginger
  • 1 tspn grated garlic
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • The following ground to a coarse powder: 1 tblspn coriander seeds, 1 tspn black peppercorn, 2-3 Kashmiri chillies
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 3 Thai chillies, slit
  • 3 tblspns apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tspn sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tblspn grapeseed oil (or similar)
  • Salt
  • 2 tblspns chopped dhaniya/cilantro

Preparation

  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a pan that can hold the fish in one layer and add the sliced onions.
  2. As the onions begin to brown around the edges add the grated ginger and garlic and saute for another minute.
  3. Add all the powdered spices and saute till the raw aroma is gone.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes and salt and saute till the tomatoes have completely broken down and the oil separates.
  5. Add the vinegar and sugar and mix into the sludge.
  6. Add the fish and carefully fold some of the red sludge over it.
  7. Add the water and gently shake the pan to distribute it evenly.
  8. Add the slit green chillies, cover the pan and cook over medium-low heat till the fish is done (about 12-15 minutes).
  9. Garnish with the chopped dhaniya and serve with dal and steamed rice.

Notes

  1. The heat in this curry comes from the black pepper and the slit green chillies. Remember Kashmiri chillies are mild; they’re being used here largely for colour.
  2. The intended flavour profile here is a mix of hot (from the pepper and chillies) and sour (from the vinegar and tomatoes) with a bit of sweetness (from the sugar and tomatoes). The sour should be the top note but not aggressively so. Taste as you go and adjust the sweetness if necessary.
  3. As noted above, for a richer variation you could add a cup of coconut milk in place of water. Don’t add the sugar in that case.

 

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