Cookbook Tester–Suvir Saran’s American Masala


Suvir Saran, chef of Devi, has just opened a casual spot in Jersey City called American Masala. That also happens to be the name of the chef’s most recent cookbook, and from what I gather, the concept behind the book and the restaurant are the same: simple, Western food (burgers, pasta, chili) tweaked with Indian spices and ingredients.

I tested Saran’s recipe for homemade tomato chutney, and then the recipe for salmon en papillote with tomato chutney. The results, after the jump.

This picture sucks, but the dish, thankfully, did not suck. I used arctic char instead of salmon because farmed salmon is not a sustainable choice, and wild salmon, while sustainable, costs about as much as I make in a year. Arctic char has rich, pink flesh very similar to salmon–and it’s also pretty affordable.

I started with the tomato chutney recipe, and found that it worked very well, with the exception of Saran’s odd advice that the chutney is just as good made with “winter-pale” tomatoes. Eww. I can’t imagine that that’s true, so I used a 28-ounce can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes. But because of the more liquid consistency of the canned tomatoes, my chutney never really reduced to a jammy consistency. It was more like a thick sauce. Which was fine–the flavor is really beautiful, the combination of the sharply fragrant curry leaves, chiles and mustard seeds and sweet tomato is delicious. I bet it would be even better with fresh tomatoes in season. The ingredient list is long, but once you have the spices, throwing the chutney together is very easy. Here’s the recipe:

Better-Than-Ketchup Tomato Chutney
Yield: about 3 cups
Adapted from American Masala

1/4 cup canola oil
36 curry leaves, roughly torn
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
12 dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 6 or 7), cored and roughly chopped
1 (4.4-ounce) tube double-concentrated tomato paste or 1 (9-ounce) can tomato paste
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sambhar or rasam powder, or 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

In a large pot or skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil with the curry leaves, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and chiles until the cumin is browned, about 2 minutes. Add the turmeric, and cook until the chiles darken, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the remaining ingredients, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and pressing the tomatoes against the sides of the pot to mash them if they are not breaking up on their own. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the chutney is thick and jammy, stirring often, an additional 20 to 35 minutes. If you are using hard winter tomatoes [don’t!], the chutney may cook in less time, as there is less tomato juice to reduce. Taste for seasoning, transfer to a covered plastic container, and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or ladle into dry and sterilized jars and can according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Then I used the chutney to season the fish, as described in this recipe:

Salmon “en Papillote” with Tomato Chutney

Yield: 6 servings
Adapted from American Masala

2 1/4 cups Better-than-Ketchup Tomato Chutney
6 salmon fillets [try to chose arctic char or wild salmon]
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
chopped cilantro, for serving
lemon or lime wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut six pieces of aluminum foil about 15 inches long, and place them on your work surface. Add 3 tablespoons tomato chutney to the center of each piece of foil, and place a fillet on top skin-side down. Season each piece of salmon with salt and ground pepper, and top with another 3 tablespoons tomato chutney.

Bring both long sides of the foil up over the salmon, and fold the edges over twice to seal (allow some space to remain between the top of the salmon and the foil–the foil should not be flush to the fish). Fold up the short ends of the foil, completely sealing the salmon within the foil package.

Place all the packages on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast for 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and open one package to see if the salmon is cooked to your preferred degree of doneness, by flaking the center of the fillet with a paring knife or fork. If it is too rare, simply refold the package and let sit for a couple of minutes. The heat within the package will continue to cook the fillet, even though it is out of the oven. When the fish is cooked to your liking, unfold or cut open the packets, slide the fish and sauce out, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve with lemon or lime wedges.


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