Thai Hake Curry with Lemongrass and Lime Leaf

I am always jotting down notes alongside recipes, especially in my own notebooks where I record the definitive versions of everything worth making again and again. There are a lot of recipes in those notebooks, so sometimes a few words will enable me to remember something about the dish if I haven’t made it for a while.

Alongside this dish I saw the following: “Wow!”

How could I not make it again after seeing that? I made it last night, my wife and I looked at each other and we both said… wow!

I have called it a curry, but only because it has a little heat from the chillies. There are no dried spices here, just the intense natural flavours of shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chillies and lime. When everything is prepared, just sitting there in a raw pile it smells heavenly. Apply the heat and you lose none of that but gain a lot more.

Everything I blog about is worthy of your time, but you really, really must give this one a try.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 tbsp groundnut oil

4 shallots, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

40g fresh ginger, finely chopped

4 lemongrass stalks, tender parts only, finely chopped

6 kaffir lime leaves, shredded (fresh are best, but dried are fine)

3 green chillies, finely chopped (seeds removed if you want less heat)

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

2 tbsp fish sauce

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks chopped separately

3 hake fillets, cut into large chunks

200g tin sliced water chestnuts

1 lime, zest and juice


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients, EXCEPT the lime and chopping the coriander leaves, these should be prepared immediately before serving so they are absolutely at their best.

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, when hot add the kaffir lime leaves and allow to sizzle for ten seconds or so, then add and stir-fry the shallots, garlic cloves, fresh ginger, lemongrass and green chillies for 2 or 3 minutes until soft and aromatic.

Add the coconut milk and fish sauce and continue to cook for a few minutes until the mixture is just starting to simmer. Now add the chopped coriander stalks.

At this point you can turn the heat off and allow it to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. I do this a lot; I tend to make anything with a lot of aromatic ingredients in the afternoon and allow it a few hours for the flavours to really develop, it really does make a difference. You can of course just carry straight on…

Add the water chestnuts and the pieces of hake and gently cook until the fish is just done, this will take no more than a few minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the lime zest and juice, and chop the coriander leaves.

When the fish is done, add the lime juice, sprinkle in the lime zest and coriander leaves and stir thoroughly. Take it to the table and fall in love.

This dish works perfectly with Basmati rice, cooked with the tougher trimmings of the lemongrass stalks. Waste nothing! There is flavour everywhere.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

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