A hard-won spring chinook salmon is so tasty it would be a crime to leave any scraps of meat uneaten. This spicy Indian curry will have you reconsidering what you do with those leftover salmon heads. Crab bait? I think not…
Salmon heads of all species have plenty of choice bits, including the cheeks and collars. Soup is a popular way to use them. Like whole spot shrimp in the shell, salmon heads can both flavor a stock and add a surprisingly large amount of meat to the meal—and with the help of a fine mesh strainer, you don’t have to stare your catch in the face. But you can also simmer the head in a curry and then lift it out before serving to your more squeamish guests, returning all the fall-off-the-skull meat to the dish, with nary an eyeball in sight.
Fish Head Curry is a popular dish in southern India and elsewhere on the subcontinent and Asia. Recipes for fish curry powder are as varied and fought over as red sauces for pasta. You can mix up your own or use a prepared blend. If the latter, make sure you choose a reputable brand with fresh, pungent spices (it won’t be cheap).
I picked a middle path, using a ready-made curry powder but also spiking the dish with fresh turmeric, fenugreek, black mustard, chili powder, and cumin seeds. I encourage my readers to try this curry. You’ll never toss another salmon head. And the crabs can eat chicken gizzards!
1 medium to large salmon head, gills removed and cut in half
1 tsp black mustard seed (or yellow)
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp fenugreek seed
3 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 – 3 tbsp fish curry powder*
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb ginger, peeled and minced
2 sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp tamarind paste, mixed with 1/2 cup water **
2 Asian eggplant, cut into 3-inch pieces
1 zucchini, cut into 3-inch pieces
3 tomatoes, cut into sixths
1 cup coconut cream
1 tbsp brown sugar, or to taste
2 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste
cilantro for garnish
* Make your own fish curry powder, or visit an Indian grocery or spice shop for a prepared blend.
** Available at Asian market or Indian grocery.
1. Mix chili powder, turmeric, and fish curry powder with a little water to make a thick masala paste.
2. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add mustard seed, cumin seed, and fenugreek seed and sauté until they begin to crackle and pop, about a minute.
3. Add masala paste, stirring, until fragrant, another minute or so. Add garlic, ginger, and onions, and cook together until onions are soft.
4. Pour in tamarind mixture and bring to boil. Add tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini. Cook a couple minutes before adding both halves of salmon head. (Add more water if necessary, though note that the vegetables and fish will add to liquid as they cook.) Spoon curry over salmon, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover for 5 minutes.
5. Stir in coconut cream, brown sugar, and fish sauce, careful not to disturb fish. Cook another couple minutes until fish is done yet still tender. At this point, if you’re serving squeamish guests, you can separate the salmon meat from the skin and cartilage. Maybe leave in one eyeball for a lucky diner. Garnish with fresh cilantro.