This is Madhur Jaffrey’s version of a traditional Bengali dish. Or, should I say, it is nearly her version. Because you see, dear readers, I admit to you here and now that I have an addiction to coconut milk. And not a small addiction. Not the kind that emerges every so often, becomes readily satisfied with just a few bites, and then quietly recedes into the background for a while. Nope, I crave coconut milk. I adore it. I could consume it every day of my life and never grow tired of it. And, as my ever patient Paulo will tell you, I find whenever possible an excuse to incorporate it into our meals.
This recipe is an excellent case in point. In Jaffrey’s version, the spices- mustard, turmeric, cayenne, etc- are blended with a half-cup of water, which becomes a simmering liquid for the fish. Sounds tasty, the kind of dish we like. But…. hmmm…. While water might be a good, a perfectly acceptable medium, wouldn’t that salmon much prefer to bathe in coconut milk? So much more luscious, so decadently creamy. And wouldn’t those spices suffuse the dish more subtly yet more intensely when subsumed within that smooth coconut goodness? Yes. And yes. Clearly the correct answers. The resulting dish only proves the postulations. Ridiculously delicious. Q.E.D.
As always, I love to cook food that can be prepared quickly and easily. Why spend hours in the kitchen when twenty minutes will suffice? This is one of those excellent recipes. Before the basmati rice (or whatever) has finished cooking, the salmon will be ready. Pour a glass of chilled white wine and enjoy.
Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce
1 lb salmon fillets (skinless)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 T ground mustard
2 T oil
1/4 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
14 oz can coconut milk
2 very hot chiles, preferably bird’s eye, each slit open on one side (optional)
Cut the salmon into 1 1/2-inch square chunks. Combine 1/4 tsp each of turmeric, cayenne, and salt. Rub the spice mixture all over the salmon pieces. (If you have time, let the salmon marinate for 30 minutes, or longer.) Combine the mustard powder and 1/4 tsp salt with the remaining 1/4 tsps of turmeric and cayenne. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wide saute pan. Add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop (which will occur almost immediately), add the cumin and fennel seeds. Saute, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Sprinkle in the dry mustard mixture, stir once, then pour in the coconut milk and add the chiles. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 5 minutes (to combine the flavors). Slip the salmon pieces into the milk one at a time, creating a single layer. Simmer until the salmon is just cooked through, perhaps 5 minutes (or less). Serve with rice.