This dish comes from the famous Mogul city of Oudh, which, like Lucknow and Delhi, is the home of a lively and successful fusion of Mogul and local cultures. Peter Beck, chef of the restaurant Tamarind in New York City, has popularized this dish in New York. The fish is baked “en papillote” with a chutney, as in the preceding recipe, but here the fillets are split and stuffed with the chutney. (If splitting the fish in half is daunting, you can just coat the top and bottom of the fish with the chutney, as in the previous recipe, and bake it “en papillote”; the cooking time is the same.) I use cream cheese in the chutney to replace strained yogurt (yogurt that has been drained to remove as much liquid as possible, so that it is thick, like cream cheese) that binds the ingredients and gives the mixture a luscious texture. Serve this fish with your favorite dal, a vegetable stir-fry, and raita.
Yield: Serves 4
4 skinless halibut fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each (about 1 inch thick)
2 teaspoons salt
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon garam masala (see Notes)
For the mint-cilantro chutney:
2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 bunch scallions, white parts only, trimmed
A 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into large pieces
4 garlic cloves
3 fresh hot green chiles, stemmed and seeded, if you like
½ cup fresh mint leaves (optional)
1/3 cup cream cheese
¾ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
Canola oil, for brushing
Sprinkle the halibut all over with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the lemon juice and refrigerate 10 minutes. Rinse and pat the fish dry on paper towels. Stir together the yogurt, garam masala, and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour over the fish and refrigerate 45 more minutes. Meanwhile, for the chutney, combine the ingredients in a blender and process until well blended.
Preheat the oven to 450°F Cut a piece of aluminum foil about 15 inches long and lay it on a work surface, one of the short sides facing you. Brush the bottom half with a little oil. Set one fillet on top of the greased foil. Cut the fillet in half crosswise and remove the top half. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons chutney over the bottom half and cover with the top half. Spoon 1 to 2 more tablespoons chutney on top of the fish. Fold the top half of the foil rectangle over the halibut so that the top and bottom edges meet. Fold the bottom edge up about ¼ inch, and then fold it up twice more. Do the same on both sides to completely seal the halibut in the foil package. Repeat to make three more packages.
Put the packages in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until the foil just begins to puff, about 10 minutes. Cut the packages open and slide the fish and chutney out onto plates. Serve hot.
The most important spice mixture used in northern Indian cuisine. It goes particularly well with onion-based sauces for meats and poultry but it is used to flavor many other dishes, including vegetables, chaots (snacks), dais (legumes), and raitas. Sometimes the spices are used whole and simply cooked into the dish. Or the spices are toasted and then ground together into a blend (as in the recipe below) and the mixture is stirred in at the end of cooking. Although garam masala is not as fiery hot as some Indian spice blends, black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon give it a different kind of heat that comes on slowly and lasts awhile. Since many of the recipes in this’ book use garam masala, it’s worthwhile to make a good quantity to have on hand. You can keep it for up to 3 or 4 months in an airtight container. This is my favorite blend:
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 bay leaves
¼ cup cumin seeds
1/3 cup coriander seeds
1 rounded tablespoon green cardamom pods
1 rounded tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 whole dried red chile
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
Combine the cinnamon, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, and red chile in a frying pan and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the cumin turns uniformly brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Put into a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Stir in the mace and store in an airtight container.