Keralan Fish Curry with Lemon Rice
I’m on dangerous ground. Let me admit this straightaway. The recipe I’m about to give you is, purportedly, from Kerala—and have I ever been there? Well, I dream. And my excuse is, making this food is my way of dreaming. But even had I been to India I wouldn’t be making any straight-faced claims for the ensuing recipe’s authenticity. One always has to be honest, and I’m never going to be other than a greedy girl with a wide-ranging appetite: what I can never be is Keralan.
But I have eaten Keralan food, cooked by those who actually come from there and, being a complete cookbook junkie, have the titles to slaver over in the comfort of my own home. And I love the food from this region. It is such a refined cuisine, in the best sense: the spices are used delicately to produce food that is aromatic rather than cough-inducingly hot; the scents of coconut, lime, cilantro, pervade rather than invade.
This tamarind-tangy curry, the fragrant lemoniness of the rice, make for a perfect dinner on a hot night; light enough not to knock you out, but spiced enough to prompt a heat-drowsy appetite. And it is such gloriously easy food to make. In summer, particularly, that counts.
You can easily use any fish, chopped into meaty chunks for the curry itself (I’ve even gone hideously inappropriately for salmon in my time), though I tend to use what-ever firm white fish I can lay my hands on; or just replace the fish with juicy, peeled uncooked shrimp.
I’ve given a choice of amount for the tamarind paste: go by taste; it’s up to you how evocatively pungent you want this. I happen to have a sour, rather than a sweet tooth, and this is where I indulge it. And I always keep a bottle of fish bouillon concentrate in the house (which I buy from the supermarket, along with the tamarind paste), but you could crumble in half a fish stock cube if you prefer.
Total Timeunder 30 minutes
Make Ahead RecipeYes
One Pot MealYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturecreamy, tangy, tart
- 2¾ pounds firm white fish, such as sole, cod, haddock, or halibut
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, halved and cut into thin half-moons
- 2 long red chillies
- 1½-inch piece fresh ginger
- Pinch ground cumin
- 13¾ ounces (about 1 2/3 cups) canned unsweetened coconut milk
- 1-2 tablespoons concentrated tamarind
- 1 tablespoon liquid fish stock
Cut the fish into bite-sized chunks, put them into a large bowl, and rub with a little salt and 1 teaspoon turmeric. Heat the oil in a large, shallow pan and peel and tip in your fine half-moons of onion; sprinkle them with a little salt to stop them browning and then cook, stirring, until they’ve softened; this should take scarcely 5 minutes.
Cut the whole, unseeded chillies into thin slices across (although if you really don’t want this at all hot, you can seed and then just chop them) and then toss them into the pan of softened onions. Peel the ginger and slice it, then cut the slices into straw-like strips and add them, too, along with the remaining teaspoon of turmeric and the cumin. Fry them with the onions for a few minutes.
Pour the can of coconut milk into a large glass measuring cup and add a tablespoon of tamarind paste and the fish stock, using boiling water from the kettle to bring the liquid up to the 4-cup mark. Pour it into the pan, stirring it in to make the delicate curry sauce. Taste and add more tamarind paste if you want to. And actually you can do all this hours in advance if it helps.
When you are absolutely ready to eat, add the fish to the hot sauce and heat for a couple of minutes until it’s cooked through, but still tender.
2003 Nigella Lawson