Salmon, Two Ways

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
  • Salt
  • Oil

Preparation 1

  1. 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.
  2. When the oil shimmers add the curry leaves.
  3. As soon as the curry leaves turn glossy add the sliced onion and saute for 5-7 minutes till nicely browned.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. Add the water, salt and jaggery, mix thoroughly and bring to a high simmer.
  7. 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.
  8. Uncover the pan, raise the heat to medium and let the sauce reduce to a little more than a thick coating.
  9. Serve with steamed rice.

Preparation 2

  1. Steps 1-7 as above except cook for 5 minutes after adding the fish.
  2. Uncover the pan, add the thick coconut milk, stir carefully to mix in thoroughly and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  3. Serve with steamed rice.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


5 thoughts on “Salmon, Two Ways

  1. We in Alaska are “fish snobs” – big consumers of salmon and halibut. During and cold/dark months (now) we will “settle” for frozen-once fish. In the summer, the good places don’t even try to serve frozen.

    The “season” is longer than one might expect – Costco – as a “national reference” offers filleted red salmon year-round – and is frank about whether it has been frozen. Cost is a consistent $9/pound (maybe ten).

    (because they want Alaskans to “come back”)

    I occasionally look at the “Atlantic Salmon” – but my couage fades – I’ve never tried THAT.

    A “stew” is a good way to salvage frozen salmon. I’m taking a copy of this recipe.

    I would add that mussels and other sea-going creatures might go in as well – whatever your friendly Italian Momma recommends for Cioppino.

    Thanks So Much


  2. Third way:

    1. Procure a salmon fillet (not steak) of whatever size you and your ravenous hordes can consume in one or two meals.

    2. Find a non-reactive dish that is just a bit larger than the fillet. Combine in the dish, ~1/4 cup soy sauces with 1 T. rice wine vinegar and toss in some coins of sliced ginger. I don’t bother peeling the ginger for this recipe. Place salmon skin-up/flesh down in the soy sauce and put in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.

    3. Preheat oven. There are two ways to go, high heat (425F) or low heat (225F). Both work. High heat gives us browned outer crust. Low heat makes the whole thing melting-ly tender. High heat takes 10-15 minutes to brown up nicely in my oven. Low heat takes 25-35 minutes and doesn’t brown up.

    This is week-night easy. I like my salmon medium-rare. The middle just barely converted from raw to cooked. I use a paring knife to separate the flesh in the middle of the fillet to check for medium-rare.

    The original recipe this is based on calls for a reduction of soy sauce, honey and wasabi. I find that unnecessary to the enjoyment of good salmon.

    A Midwestern consumer’s perspective on Farmed Atlantic Salmon vs. Wild Alaska Salmon:

    I don’t really understand the environmental issues around farmed salmon. Putting those aside, as far as food quality goes, I’ll take farmed Atlantic in preference to almost all the wild salmon available in the stores here in Minnesota. The wild fish seem to be harder to cook properly. Maybe this is because they are lower in fat content and are often brought to the table overcooked and nasty as a result. If I ever make it to Alaska, I’d like to try the wild salmon in situ and in season.


      • That Lake Michigan salmon rules. Nothing wrong with a good Alaskan salmon, but most of it rides a slow long road to get here. The Lake Michigan salmon a friend of his catches on his annual outing is super fresh and very tasty (especially cold-smoked).

        I’ve swiped both recipes to give them a try; no salmon in the house at the moment, however.


  3. I forgot to mention step 4: Remove salmon from marinade and pat the flesh side dry with a paper towel. Place the fillet, skin-side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet. And put it in the oven.


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