Indian cuisine is probably one of the richest cuisines in the world. It is very versatile and offers different dishes and recipes from different regions. Some of the recipes have become so popular that we have probably forgotten its origins – for example, fish tikka which originated in Punjab.
Tandoori Norwegian Salmon
Although fish is an essential part of our family diet, we easily get bored of having the same fish curry or fried fish masala over and over again. For a change sometimes we opt for the fish tikka – Punjabi style (the place of origin). Although the preparation of fish tikka is simple. Mixture of spices mixed with curd and cubes of fish fillet marinated with the mixture. The irresistible combination of spice and curd makes this dish a winner. The curd gives the marinade a smooth texture, and the fish fillets tend to absorb it and become tender and juicy. Adding mustard oil (sarson ka tel) gives smoky flavor to tikkas. It’s a snack and appetizer that sets the tone for a great meal. But we were still looking for an appetizing fish tikka preparation, which could have a tasty impact on our culinary palate.
Finally, our search ended at Vivanta’s Mynt with the exquisite and tantalizing ‘Tandoori Norwegian Salmon’ hosted by Executive Chef Sayantan and his team. The dish is prepared with cubes/pieces of salmon fillet because the fish supports quite well all the marinade and especially retains the juices when it is put in the clay oven (tandoor) and the tikkas are very tasty. If one only had white fish ‘tikka’ for a change, try this dish by all means.
The fish is generously coated with a mixture of suspended curd, saffron, a dash of mustard oil, a hint of cardamom and cumin. The ginger and garlic paste constitute the aromatics and a tenderizer such as yogurt completes the marinade. Pieces of salmon fillet are taken from the belly, which is the narrow bottom portion of the whole fillet with thick lines of white fat. This part of the salmon has the highest concentration of omega fatty acids. This savory area is a delight for many – that’s why chefs prefer this portion. After a short rest, the pieces of fish are threaded on the skewers then put in the tandoor. Salmon is naturally quite fatty, so it retains its juices quite well when put in the tandoor, a kind of self-basting and the tikka pieces don’t dry out.
Most of us may have eaten salmon at some point – in sushi, sashimi, smoked salmon or a fillet at a fancy restaurant. Chances are we ate farm-raised salmon, but at the Mynt we are served wild-caught salmon that have muscles that retain fat, not the other way around. The salmon they serve is not a plastic thing.
‘Salmo’ in salmon is thought to come from the Latin ‘salire’ meaning to jump, after their characteristic jumping action when swimming upstream.
Salmon is what is called an anadromous fish. This means that they spawn in fresh water, migrate to the sea to do most of their growth, and then migrate to fresh water to spawn again. It usually takes at least four years for salmon to go from hatching to spawning, with about half of that time spent in fresh water and the other half at sea.
The journey from the river to the sea
Freshly hatched salmon are known as fingerlings or bag fry and they feed primarily on their yolk sac. These quickly transform into Parr, which have vertical stripes for camouflage. After about 18 months, Parrs shed their stripes and become Smolts, ready to hit the sea. Most salmon, however, remain at sea for another year feeding on other fish and seafood. such as krill, and prepare for the long swim upstream to mate. As they grow, they often develop a bump and take on a darker skin color.
Eventually they swim in rivers and all the way upstream. Once the migrating salmon reach the spawning grounds in the river, the females create a number of nests called Redds. They lay their eggs which are then fertilized by the males. Once done, the female covers the eggs with gravel to protect them from predators.
Salmon can be found any time of the year in grocery stores or seafood markets. Whole fish should have clear, shiny eyes; firm flesh that springs back when squeezed, and should smell fresh and sweet (never too fishy or ammonia). When buying frozen salmon, watch out for broken wrappers or wrappers containing frozen ice crystals which may indicate the wrapper has been allowed to thaw and refreeze. A good frozen salmon should be hard and not pliable.
For the road
The 1990s saw the era of liberalization (and imports of food ingredients). It was around this time that Jiggs Kalra created the Salmon Tikka at Hyatt’s Aangan restaurant in Delhi. Few Indian chefs had little experience with cold water fish like salmon, but Jiggs adapted his style to global ingredients and Salmon Tikka is now cooked by chefs all over the world, most of whom don’t realize that Jiggs invented it.