I have for you two recipes for salmon or rather two recipes in one. The second is the first plus one ingredient and a couple of very minor time adjustments. Both are centered on flavours from southwestern coastal Indian fish preparations, sometimes involving rawas or Indian salmon. These kinds of preps are pretty much the only Indian fish dishes in which I think American salmon works very well—but that may just be me.
This is not, however, a traditional preparation. It does not follow any particular regional recipe but instead seeks to approximate vague taste memories of dishes eaten in friends’ homes and in restaurants. There are two ingredients that are certainly not traditionally Indian in any way: balsamic vinegar and Sichuan peppercorn. But both work well here, the balsamic playing a role similar to tamarind and the Sichuan peppercorn doing the work that its South Indian relative tirphal might otherwise do. Despite the ersatz nature of these recipes and two unorthodox ingredients the results are excellent and I recommend both dishes to you highly.
- 1.5 lbs salmon, cut into small chunks
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 1 medium red onion, halved and thickly sliced
- 3/4 tspn freshly pounded garlic
- 3/4 tspn freshly pounded ginger
- 3/4 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- The following spices lightly toasted, cooled and ground to a fine powder: 1 tspn cumin seeds, 1 tspn coriander seeds, 1 tspn black peppercorn, 1 tspn Sichuan peppercorn, 2 star anise, 3-5 byadgi chillies or similar (see note)
- 3 tblspns balsamic vinegar
- 1 tblspn jaggery or brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1.5 cups thick coconut milk
- Heat 2 tblspns or so of oil over medium heat in a large skillet or similar that can hold all the fish in one layer.
- When the oil shimmers add the curry leaves.
- As soon as the curry leaves turn glossy add the sliced onion and saute for 5-7 minutes till nicely browned.
- While the onions are browning place the garlic, ginger, ground spices and turmeric in a small bowl, add the vinegar and make a thick paste.
- When the onions have browned add the spice paste, mix in well and saute for a minute or so till highly fragrant (do not let the spice paste scorch).
- Add the water, salt and jaggery, mix thoroughly and bring to a high simmer.
- Add the fish, gently mix it in with the gravy by mostly shaking the pan, bring back to a high simmer, cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Shake the pan gently from time to time to keep things from sticking.
- Uncover the pan, raise the heat to medium and let the sauce reduce to a little more than a thick coating.
- Serve with steamed rice.
- Steps 1-7 as above except cook for 5 minutes after adding the fish.
- Uncover the pan, add the thick coconut milk, stir carefully to mix in thoroughly and simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Serve with steamed rice.
- You could certainly make either of these with a meaty fish other than salmon as well. And there’s no reason you couldn’t use whole fish like pomfret or pompano either.
- And you could of course make this hotter. Byadgi chillies are hotter than Kashmiri chillies but not by much; you could use a hotter dried chilli or throw in a few slit green chillies along with the coconut milk. But both are pretty nicely balanced dishes as presented and you might try them that way first.
- You can sub another sweet vinegar like sherry vinegar or Chingkiang black vinegar for the balsamic. Or if you insist you can make a very thick extract with a tspn or so of block tamarind and use that instead.