Madras Fish Curry with Tomato and Tamarind

I’m an unabashed lover of curry, in all its forms from all over the world. For the vast majority of my life though I considered curried fish to be the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard of. Fish is delicious in its own right, why obscure those flavours with overpowering spice?

Maybe you’ve already figured out what I’m going to say next… yes, I was a fool. There are many ways to cook curry; some dishes improve immeasurably when allowed to stand for 24 hours or so before eating, others are best made fresh and quickly, and eaten immediately. This is one of the latter.

Use a well-flavoured fish: Rick Stein – from whose ‘India’ book this recipe hails – uses snapper, last night I used hake with great success, but I reckon that gurnard and monkfish would also be excellent with their flavours forming an important part of the overall tapestry.

The tamarind water is used here to contribute intense bitterness, sourness and a peculiar sweetness – describing it is difficult but if you created a hybrid of grapefruit, apricots and dates you would call it tamarind. Tamarind pulp is widely available in compressed blocks either wet or dry, use either as it doesn’t really matter. You can use properly diluted tamarind concentrate from a bottle if you’re stuck, but nothing comes close to pulp for complexity of flavour.

Needless to say, since I realised my fish curry mistake I have been busy making and tasting as many different recipes as I can find. This is among the very best of them, it is quick, very easy, and put a smile on everyone’s face in my house.

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RECIPE serves 4

60ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

1 large onion, finely chopped

15g / 3 cloves garlic, finely crushed

30 fresh curry leaves

2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp turmeric

400g can of chopped tomatoes

tamarind liquid (see ingredients and method below)

2 green chillies, each sliced lengthways into 6 pieces, with seeds intact

1 tsp fine sea salt

700g fish fillets, cut into 5cm chunks

For the tamarind liquid:

60g tamarind pulp

120ml just-boiled water


METHOD

First, make the tamarind liquid. Take the tamarind pulp and put it in a bowl with the water. Leave to soak for 15 minutes, then work the paste with your fingers until it has broken down and the seeds have been released. Strain the slightly syrupy mixture through a fine sieve, rubbing it well against the sides of the sieve to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the fibrous material and seeds left behind, set the liquid aside until ready to use.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds and fry for 30 seconds, then stir in the onion and fry gently for about 10 minutes until softened and lightly golden.

Make a stiff paste from the chilli powder, coriander and turmeric by putting them in a small bowl with a little water and mixing thoroughly. Set aside until ready to use.

Add the garlic, curry leaves, chilli powder, coriander and turmeric and fry for around a minute, then stir in the tomatoes, tamarind liquid, green chillies and salt and simmer for about 10 minutes until rich and reduced.

Add the fish, cook for a further 5 minutes or until just cooked through. Serve with plain basmati rice and roti.

Sicilian Chips

When you have discovered that you like something a certain way, it can be a struggle to do it any other way. That’s certainly the case in my house; if we have chips then we have chips with fennel seeds. However, I spotted this recipe in Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi’s ‘Sicily’, and it looked too good not to make – so I didn’t tell anybody what I was making, presenting it as a fait accompli. It was a good move, this is absolutely delicious and I can see it being a regular request from now on.

Cut the chips small, about as thick as your little finger, don’t overdo the tomatoes (they release too much moisture in the oven, which hinders the chips from getting crunchy) and be generous with the black olives. Olives with the stones still in taste infinitely better that without, but don’t go the the effort of removing the stones – the cooked olive flesh is meltingly soft and comes off the stones easily so leave it to your dinner companions to do it themselves.

We had this with pan-fried sea bass fillets, but it would work well with any firm white fish (cod, hake, tilapia, even monkfish if you’re pushing the boat out) or salmon.

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RECIPE serves 4

750g floury potatoes (i.e. King Edwards, Roosters, Maris Piper), peeled and cut into chips

2 red onions, cut from root to tip and cut into wedges

2 tsp dried oregano

150g cherry tomatoes, cut in half around the equator

a generous handful (or two) of black olives

a generous glug of olive oil

sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ Gas 6.

Put the chips into a large pan of cold, lightly salted water and bring to the boil. When just boiling, reduce to a steady simmer and cook for two minutes. Drain in a colander, and allow most of the surface moisture to steam off.

meanwhile, line a couple of large baking trays with parchment paper, toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl and divide between the two baking trays. Do not crowd the trays, allow plenty of room between the different elements so they can roast properly.

Cook for 35-45 minutes until you can’t resist the smell anymore, the chips are golden brown and the onions are just starting to catch and caramelise. Transfer to a warm serving dish and serve immediately alongside your choice of fish and a big pile of rocket leaves.