South Indian Fish Curry with Chick Peas

There is an awful lot of flavour in this delicious, warming curry. It isn’t a fierce curry, instead it is enlivened by layers of spicing and moderated by a little sugar. The real star of the show though is the tamarind; it adds a deep, sour tang to the dish which balances the sweetness without smothering it while the addition of a little lime juice at the end gives it an aromatic freshness. Though I love vindaloo, there is much more to a great curry than just a lot of heat.

The sauce is very bold, so it needs an equally bold flavoured fish, mackerel is easy to obtain and delicious.

A note about the use of fresh ginger: most recipes call for the ginger to be peeled but by doing so you are throwing away a lot of flavour. Instead, ensure the skin is clean, chop away any rough bits and the grey-looking wounds from previous cuts, then chop it keeping the rest of the skin on. You will only know it is there because of the flavour that it brings with it.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 tsp ground fenugreek

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

a large knob of ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes, and 1 tin of water

1 tin of chickpeas

1 fish stock cube

2 tsp tamarind concentrate

1 tsp caster sugar

350g mackerel fillets

lime juice to taste

fresh coriander, stalks and leaves separated, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and sweat under a cartouche for ten minutes or so until softened but not coloured.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Add the turmeric, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ground fenugreek, chilli flakes, ginger and garlic, stir-fry for 30 seconds then pour in the tomatoes, refill the tin with water and pour that in as well, add the chickpeas and crumble the fish stock cube into the sauce. Simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Now add the chopped coriander stalks – never throw the stalks away, again they are full of flavour that you would otherwise lose – stir in the tamarind concentrate and sugar and adjust the balance of the two by adding a little more of either until it is as you like it. Season very carefully with salt and a little ground black pepper.

At this point you can leave the sauce to sit and infuse for a few hours, or overnight. It’s an old cliche that curries taste better the day after, but it’s true. It’s almost as good if you carry straight on though…

With the sauce at a gentle simmer, cut your fish into large chunks and gently push them into the sauce so they are just submerged. Poach gently for around 8 minutes (the exact time will depend on the thickness of your fillets).

Adjust the seasoning if necessary, add a couple of dashes of lime juice (fresh is always best) and garnish with the chopped coriander leaves.

The population seems to divide equally between those who love coriander and those who think it tastes like soap. Personally I love it and use it in huge quantities – in the picture above I have used only a little, but when it went on the table you couldn’t see the sauce for the coriander. It’s best to be aware that some people might not like it before you use it!

This goes very well with steamed or plain boiled basmati rice, and carrot and ginger salad.

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