As promised those T.V. dinner recipes are going eventually make it here. This recipe for Halibut Fillets with a Coconut Milk-Mustard Seed Sauce is out of this world. The delicate but rich sauce is perfect for smothering firm-fleshed halibut fillets, especially served with rice to mop up all the sauce. Of course you could use any firm-fleshed fish to pair with the succulent sauce. While Indian food is somewhat labor intensive I find doing some of the work ahead of time is a great way to break up the work. You can easily make the curry for this dish ahead of time and then simply throw the dish together at the last minute! I served this recently to my life long friend Colleen and her son Wil who came to visit a few weeks ago. I have known Colleen since I was about four years old. We lived across the street from each other for years and went to school together from kindergarten until 12th grade. There simply isn't anything like someone who has know you and your family for that amount of time. In some ways Colleen knows me better than I know myself. I am grateful to have a life long friend and I am simply crazy about her son Wil, a delightful young man who just puts a big smile on my face. So Colleen, this post is for you!
Halibut Fillets with A Coconut Milk-Mustard Curry Sauce
Adapted from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 1/2 pounds skinless pieces of halibut fillet (2-3 inches thick)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds (I used black)
1 tablespoon skinned split black lentils (cream-colored in this form, also called urad dal)
1 cut finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (I tried to just use the solid milk from a large can)
2 teaspoons sambhar masala (see below)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 fresh curry leaves (I did not have these on hand and simply used more cilantro)
1 large tomato, cored and finely chopped
Dust halibut on both sides evenly with turmeric, pressing into the flesh. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer.
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in small sauce pan over medium high heat, add the mustard seeds, cover and cook until the seeds stop popping, about a minute. Add the lentils and stir-fry until they turn golden brown, 30-60 minutes or longer, don't burn! Add onion and cook 5-7 minutes. Add the coconut milk, cilantro, masala, salt and curry leaves if you have them. The coconut milk should start to boil at which point you will lower the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato and cook just until warmed through but tomatoes remain firm, about 2 minutes.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a medium size skillet over medium heat. Add halibut fillets and sear until light brown on each side, 2-3 minutes per side. Pour the curry sauce over the fillets , scrapping the bottom of the skillet to release any bits of fish and incorporate them into the sauce. Cover the pan and poach the fish, basting frequently with the sauce, until the fillets are barely starting to flake, 6-8 minutes. Serve.
1/2 cup firmly packed medium size fresh curry leaves (You will need to find and Indian grocery store to supply these!)
1/2 cup dried red Thai or cayenne chilies, stems removed
1/4 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon black or yellow mustard seeds (I use black)
1 tablespoon white poppy seeds
2 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long, broken into smaller pieced
1 tablespoon unrefined sesame oil or canola oil
Combine all the spices in a medium-size bowl, drizzle the oil over them and toss, coating the spices evenly.
Preheat a medium-size skilled over medium-high heat. Add the mixture and roast, stirring until the curry leaves curl up and appear dry and brittle, the chilies blackened slightly, the split peas turn dark brown, the coriander, cumin and fenugreek turn reddish brown, the mustard seeds pop, swell up and look ash-black, and bobby seeds are tan, 3-4 minutes.
Immediately transfer the pungent, nutty-smelling spices to a plate to cool! Don't let them sit in the pan, they will continue to cook and take on a bitter taste. Once cool grind the spice mixture in a spice grinder in batches until it resembles that of finely ground pepper. If the spices are completely cool they will acquire unwanted moisture from the heat of the grinding and become cakey. Transfer the blend to an air tight container.
A well ventilated kitchen is a must for making this blend. Roasting the large quantity of chilies may cause a coughing fit.