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Recipe: Blueberry Habanero Chutney on Poached Fish


I’ve been talking about this recipe almost as long as I’ve had this blog, and for good reason: it’s delightfully scrumptious stuff, with a dstinct heat that's a perfect counterpoint to the decidely summery-tasting berries. (Blueberries do taste like summer to you, don't they? I think I have a peculiarly foodist form of synesthesia. Blueberries are August and giggling children.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh, that's right. The chutney. It's been served on chicken, fish, and meat, as well as alongside a blue cheese cheesecake that was smeared on thin slices of homemade baguettes. All yummy. It’s also been blended down to a puree and smeared on a rack of pork ribs. (Why do they call them “spareribs” anyway? I bet the pig doesn’t think they are exactly “spare” parts)

We had some of this chutney last night, on the seemingly inevitable fresh salmon, and it was the perfect counterpoint to the meltingly tender fish. The salmon was almost an impulse purchase—don’t you pick up a whole salmon while standing in the checkout aisle? They do stock them where you shop, don’t they? Right there next to the candy bars. No? Oops, sorry. So sad for you. You should come visit. impishGrin

I can hear you thinking, “But, Mage, what does salmon have to do with chutney? Wasn't there supposed to be a recipe here somewhere?” Well, actually, yes there is. Click on and you shall see...not necessarily immediately, but I promise we'll get there.

someoneElse called from “town” (the one with the surprisingly well-stocked grocery store the size of my living/dining room) yesterday to ask if I needed anything from the store. I replied, “Something that’s not frozen for dinner.” I should know better. Half an hour later, we’re schlepping the big metal cooler out to the car and heading down the valley to pick out a fish.

We arrived to find several people standing around talking—the fishers place is one of our “water coolers” so, of course, you have to get caught up on the local happenings—and a couple dozen fish from which to select. As I watch several fat fish get packed into ice-filled coolers and carted away, my fishGuy, K., reassures me that he has a nice Chinook for me and I smile, happy that after only a year here I’ve made it to that status.

Once the crowd thinned a bit, K dug into a bin of the slippery beasts and pulled out a firm, bright-eyed (well, as bright as you can be if you’re dead) fish. Pointing to a nick just above the tail, he explains that this is how you can tell the color of the fish without actually hacking into it. (I love learning from the pros!) We “oooh” and “aaah” over ours, which is just beautiful; one of those deep salmony colors that they point to in the “fish fan” of Pantone-like farmed fish dyes and say, “Your customers will love this!”. But this baby is wild. None of that bleechy farmed crap for us.


Brought it home, filleted it (and determined we need to take K. up on his offer of lessons). Between us, we can fillet a fish—we just can’t do it very quickly, and it’s not the prettiest slicing I’ve ever seen. (I feel for those people on Cooking Under Fire or whichever show it was that made people butcher a salmon--they are slippery buggers and the knife has to be sharp--if you don't know what you're doing it could be trouble.) Give me a year or two and I’ll be good. Until then, I must buy lots of fresh fish on which to practice.


The fish was poached in a blend of white wine, water, and lemon juice brightened with lemon slices and a handful of lemon thyme fresh from the garden. I’d say something specific about how long to poach the fish here, but that would require timing it so I’ll have to go with about 10 minutes. Remove from pan, rest for a minute or three, top with chutney and serve.


Salmon, chutney, grandmother's crystal. Life could be worse.

This recipe is based on one from the Duck Soup Inn (on San Juan Island, WA.) in Northwest Best Places Cookbook (vol. 2). If you live in this area—or even if you don’t—this is a great cookbook series, and one that can often be found at a used bookstore. This chutney recipe is part of a Lavender Crusted chicken breast dish that I’ve made half a dozen variations on, all of them excellent and one of my favorite desserts ever (Ray’s Boathouse’s Lemon Mousse) comes from one of these books.

Blueberry Habanero Chutney

1 onion, diced
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
3 cups blueberries (Fresh is best, but frozen is fine—it’s getting cooked, you’ll never notice.)
1 habanero pepper, minced as fine as you can get it

Combine the onion, vinegar, sugar, salt, and half the habanero. Simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 1/3 its original volume. I measure how much sauces have reduced with this high-tech tool: take one chopstick and put on a twist-tie at the level of the when you start. This makes it easy to tell how much more liquid—and habanero vapors—must be boiled off. I can usually tell because it's about when my contact lenses start to bug me, but it's nice to have verification.


Add blueberries and more habanero to taste. Simmer gently until thickened, stirring every minute or so to avoid scorching, about 7-10 minutes. Let cool before serving.


Quantity: I think this makes 3-4 cups. At least that's what it seems like when I look at the ingredients. (volume of blueberries+volume of onions=quantity of chutney more or less) I've been making it in random-sized large batches since the second time I made some.

Heat: Last time I made this, two versions were created: one with the usual amount of pepper and one with about twice that. The latter is very warm, not such a bad thing for these upcoming cold winter nights and, if you like heat, you could easily add more.

Storing: This probably keeps for a month or two in the refrigerator, but I put up some for the winter and honestly, it’s never made it more than a week between opening a jar and emptying it. The longest I've actually had some last was 2 weeks so I know that much, but, trust me, it'll be gone long before that.

Habaneros: If you haven’t cooked with habaneros, here’s a bit of advice.


You think I kid? Silly you. I wear these gloves when I am working with stupidlyHotPeppers and even so I have issues. On one recent foray into habaneroLand, I carefully suited up—gloves, prophylactic eyedrops so there's something to buffer the offgassing pepper, sleeves rolled up, hair tied back—got out a plastic chopping board I have for just this purpose and minced. When I was finished, I decontaminated—toss knife and board into sink and wash, gloves off, wash face, hands, and other exposed skin; wipe down kitchen surfaces—and three hours later when I removed my contact lenses it burned like I'd rubbed my eyes with a slice of the stuff! Yikes! Seriously, be careful with this stuff; a tiny bit goes a long way and gloves are cheap. I buy mine by the box at Costco.

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