Friday, March 4, 2011

Fish in a Velvety Sauce

Or Bengali doi maach. This Bengali, or Eastern Indian dish is a mild fish curry in a yogurt sauce. The ingredient list was much shorter than many of the other Indian dishes I've prepared, and far less intimidating. This recipe could serve very well as an intro to Indian curries...both for those interesting in tasting Indian cuisine and those who wish to try their hand at cooking it.

adapted from The Everything Indian Cookbook by Monica Bhide

serves 4

The Ingredients:
4-5 catfish or tilapia filets (about 1 1/2 lbs)
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
8 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 bay leaf
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste*
1 large onion, minced
1 tsp red chili powder
2 serrano chilies, seeded and minced
1/2 cup plain yogurt, whipped
table salt to taste
water, as needed

*ginger -garlic paste is essentially equal parts fresh ginger and garlic, blended into a paste with the optional serrano pepper thrown in for heat.

The Process:
Place the filets in a bowl. Rub well with the turmeric and set aside for about 10 minutes. Rinse the filets and pat dry.

In a medium-sized skillet, heat 6 Tbsp of the oil. Add the filets one at a time and fry until browned on both sides. Remove from heat with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Continue until all filets are fried. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil. Add the bay leaf and cumin seeds. When the spices begin to sizzle, add the ginger-garlic paste and onions; saute for about 7 to 8 minutes, or until onions are well browned.

Add the red chili powder and green chilies, mix well. Add the yogurt and salt to taste, and mix well. Add about 1/2 cup of water. Simmer, uncovered on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the fish filets and simmer for another 5 mintues. Be careful not to break the filets when you stir. Serve hot.

My Modifications:
I opted to use tilipia in lieu of catfish, and the daintier filet held up quite well in this sauce. Though the recipe stated to rinse the fish after rubbing in the turmeric, our filets went straight into the oil with their bright orange spice dusting intact. I also used about half of the oil called for in the recipe...just enough to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. After frying the fish, this oil was reused to start the sauce, instead of heating new oil.

Given the size of the onions at our grocer, I only used half of an incredibly enormous red onion. Only one serrano was used as well, as I was afraid of overpowering the delicate flavor of the tilapia.

Upon adding the yogurt, the dairy immediately curdled, creating a sauce that looked far from velvety. I'm not sure what caused the culinary mishap, but in the error I did realize I had chopped, not minced the onion. The resulting sauce seemed far more chunky and runny than I had envisioned...and far from appetizing, though the sauce did smell amazing. A quick run through the food processor smoothed the sauce into the cheerful yellow curry I had hoped for. And the resulting dish was quite well received.

The Review:
I was a little worried for a minute when the sauce looked far from velvety. But in the end, all turned out well. Other variations of the recipe call for onion ground into a paste, so I don't feel too far off for having to run my sauce through the food processor before adding the fish back into the skillet. I'd imagine the dish would work quite well with a wide range of flaky white fish, and I was pleasantly surprised that the sauce did not overpower the tilapia. Of the meal, Ross simply said "yum"...a huge endorsement for one who refused to even try Indian food a scant two years ago!

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