That first tear of chapati (flatbread), that first swoop through the curry, that first morsel of glistening fish with a scatter of cilantro as it gets scooped up into your mouth, that is a moment I look forward to every time I make this fish salan. I love the subtle notes of the golden onion, the lone tomato, and the moderate amount of fenugreek. The whole spices are there, but less aggressively so resulting in a curry that seems so perfect for this time of the year.
I didn’t grow up eating a lot of fish, not unless you count fish fingers as fish. It is only in recent years that I have started to cook it for a household that can’t live on chicken breasts alone and discovered how much I truly enjoy it’s delicacy. It is also an added bonus that once you’ve developed the curry part, the actual fish takes only minutes to cook meaning you could make the masala, set it aside and when you’re ready to eat it add the fish and finish the cooking.
My sister in law suggested adding fenugreek earlier in the cooking process and I find it works well, the flavor of the fenugreek seems to permeate the curry and the fish in a way my usual ‘last five minutes’ addition doesn’t. If you really enjoy the flavor of fenugreek you could easily double it here. If you are not a fan then leave it out and this will still be yummy.
Fish Salan or Fish Curry
1 lb white firm fish fillets
4-6 black peppercorns
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 cloves crushed garlic (1 tsp)
1.5 inch grated fresh ginger (1 tbsp)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp red chilli powder
3/4 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1-2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves/ kasuri methi
4-6 green chillies
1 handful of chopped cilantro
half a lemon
neutral oil for cooking
Slice your onions as thinly as possible then finely dice your tomato. Set aside.
Warm 1/4 cup of oil in a heavy bottomed stock pot, add the cloves, black peppers, and cumin seeds. When the seeds start to sizzle then add the onions and cook till they become golden brown. it is tricky to get evenly golden brown onions so try and get most of the onions that color and then add your garlic and ginger. Saute for two minutes then add the dry spices and the fenugreek. Cook for another two minutes and then in goes the tomato. Cook on medium high heat until the tomato and spices form a cohesive paste and the oil rises above it (what we call ‘bhunn’), now add two cups of hot water.
Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil then lower a little and cook till your onion softens to the point that when pressed against the side of the pot it ‘dissolves’. In my neck of the woods this takes between 30-45 minutes.
While this is happening cut your fish into 2 inch pieces, sprinkle with a little salt and lemon juice then go watch some tv.
Now you have a choice: you can add your fish to the curry, cook till done and top with cilantro and chillies.
Since onions here tend to give me a tough time – pun intended – here is what I do: When the onions are very tender then turn the heat up to dry the water, this helps with the flavor and texture of the curry. When the liquid reduces so that you’re left with 2 inches of curry then gently fold in your fish pieces and scatter the green chillies over top (whole or sliced, up to you). Cook on medium heat for 5-8 minutes then adjust the consistency of the curry w hot water then top with cilantro and serve. I personally like this curry to be thin, almost broth like.