100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 11, Grilled Fish Masala at Himalaya Restaurant
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Grilled Fish Masala at Himalaya should come with a warning: VERY HOT.
My motto with Indian food is generally "the hotter, the better." I can't get enough of the stuff that makes my eyes water and sweat bead up on my forehead. So it was with great pleasure that I recently discovered a dish at Himalaya that incorporates two of my favorite things: seafood and sauce so hot even I need an extra glass of water.
The dish is called Grilled Fish Masala, which sounds innocuous enough. The description on the menu, like many descriptions at Himalaya, tells you very little about what's in the dish: "Two large pieces of fresh American tilapia fillets grilled with Indian spices and topped with our special seafood tomato sauce. Served with sautéed onions and tomatoes."
Ah, of course, Indian spices. Special seafood sauce. You pretty much just have to order things and see what you get. Fortunately, I can almost guarantee that anything will be wonderful. In this case, the fish masala exceeded expectations.
The masala sauce on the two very large filets of fish is not the traditional creamy masala sauce of your British-Indian chicken tikka masala. It's chunkier and heavy with onions, garlic, tomatoes and a generous dose of ginger and cayenne. Were there not so much fish hidden beneath the reddish layer of chopped vegetables and spices, it would be hard to discern the fishy flavor.
But the portions are large, and the mild fish plays well off the exceedingly spicy sauce. Even in the mix of sautéed onions and tomatoes, it's possible to discern both the briny sea flavor and the heady garam masala, a blend of North Indian spices including cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns.
There's also a good deal of ghee anchoring the dish. Ghee is clarified butter that is composed almost entirely of fat. So before you go thinking that fish and masala sauce is healthy, think again. It is, however, rich with butter fat and complex due to the multitude of spices stewed for hours until all the flavors meld into something new and unique.
Indian food is mystifying in a way that other, more straightforward cuisines are not, and that's why I love it. It can be difficult to put your finger on exactly what ingredients compose a dish because they've blended together so thoroughly. One thing's for certain when you dine at Himalaya, though: It's going to be mighty spicy.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.