The majority of curries use tomatoes as the basis for the sauce, this one is very different in that it uses toasted sesame seeds as its main ingredient, and is thickened with onions and peanut butter. The result is as fabulous as it is interesting: an almost-bitter nutty undertone overlaid by the almost-sweetness of the dessicated coconut, tempered by the sour edge of the tamarind.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first made it, but I was converted after one mouthful, and by the time I had finished it I was completely in love with it. You can use salmon or any white fish – cod, hake, pollock, haddock, or monkfish is a particular treat – and if you use a mix of fish it is even better.
This is a sauce that is best made early and allowed to sit for a few hours, or even overnight. Like all curries, the ingredients list looks daunting but this is actually a quick and easy dish to make.
RECIPE – for 4 people
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp dessicated coconut
4 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp chunky peanut butter
5 cm fresh ginger, not peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tsp salt
For the sauce:
115g sesame seeds
ground nut oil
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
12 curry leaves
4 salmon or white fish fillets or loins, or a mix
Combine the paste 1 ingredients in a bowl. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a large pan that is NOT non-stick. When toasted, remove from the heat and add the paste 1 ingredients. The pan will still be very hot, so just agitate the ingredients for a minute or so off the heat, then pour everything back into the bowl and allow to cool. When cool, use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to grind it in to a smooth paste. This will probably have to be done in two batches, and because the sesame seeds are oily it will grind into something more like a paste rather than a powder. Set aside.
Pour ground nut oil into a large pan to a depth of 3mm, get it very hot but not smoking then add the onions and stir-fry for around ten minutes until they are brown and crisp. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and drain them on kitchen paper; retain the remaining oil for use later.
Put the paste 2 ingredients in a blender, together with the onions and 250 ml of hot water and blend to a thick puree. Add the paste 1 ingredients that you toasted and ground earlier, together with a further 250 ml of hot water. Blend again, check the seasoning and the balance of sourness, adding more tamarind paste if you feel it needs it.
Heat the oil that was set aside earlier, add the mustard and cumin seeds, and when they start to pop add the curry leaves and cook for 15 seconds, then add the blended sauce. Pour another 250ml of hot water into the now-empty blender and swirl it around to wash out the sauce that is left behind, pour into the pan with the rest and bring to the boil before setting it to a gentle simmer.
If you will be leaving the sauce to sit and develop then at this point you can allow the sauce to cool until needed.
Lightly season the fish you will be using, you can leave the fish as whole fillets or cut it into 2 cm wide chunks, whichever you prefer. When ready to cook, gently push the fish into the simmering sauce so that it is just submerged and poach it for 5-7 minutes until it is just cooked.
Serve alongside plain rice and garnish it with fresh coriander. Madhur Jaffrey advises that this is also excellent served with new potatoes and lightly sauteed brocolli, garnished with chopped flat-leaf parsley. Who am I to argue?