Saturday, 16 January 2010

Hout Bay Linefish Simmered in a Spiced Coconut Gravy

Tamarind water adds a lovely tartness to this creamy, delicately spiced curry. This is a subtle dish which I think is just right without any extra heat, but if you like a bit of a kick, you can spike it with a few chopped fresh green chillis.

I was reluctant to put the word 'curry' in the title of this dish, because an artfully spiced curry is, to my mind, a work of sheer culinary magic, and best left to experts.

 Now that I've provided this disclaimer, I can tell you that I loved this dish - which I came up with after consulting numerous books by my favourite experts, namely Madhur Jaffrey, Atul Kochhar and others - so much that I couldn't stop eating it.

I had made enough for six, but - predictably - my fish-loathing family turned their noses up, without even tasting it.  So I ate it for lunch and supper for two days running, and had the dregs on toast this morning for breakfast. (I know, I know. But these flakes of fresh fish bathed in spicy, aromatic, creamy gravy were just what my brainbuds desperately craved, and who am I to refuse them?).

This dish is better the day after it was made, but do reheat it very gently to avoid over-cooking the fish.

You can use any robust, firm-fleshed, fresh fillets of fish in this dish; I used kabeljou from my local Hout Bay Harbour.  This is my all-time favourite fish, but I try not to buy it too often, as it is ranked orange (meaning 'use with caution') on the South African Seafood Sustainable Initiative (SASSI).

[Postscript, 7 May 2012:  I no longer cook with orange-listed seafood.]

As always, very fresh spices make all the difference to a dish like this.  Please use plenty of oil in which to brown the onions: you will not achieve the right depth of flavour if you use just a lick.  You can always drain off the oil once they're cooked.

Compressed tamarind pulp is available at Asian spice shops. If you can't find it, add 4 teaspoons of prepared, bottled tamarind sauce or the same quantity of freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus 200 ml water, to the dish.

Hout Bay Linefish Simmered in a Spiced Coconut Gravy

1.2 kg fresh, firm-fleshed white fish fillets, skinned and boned
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
1½  tsp (7.5 ml) red chilli powder
1½  tsp (7.5 ml) turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
30 g pressed tamarind, soaked for 20 minutes in 250 ml warm water
100 ml vegetable oil (sunflower or canola)
1½  tsp (7.5 ml) mustard seeds, brown or blonde
1½  tsp (7.5 ml) whole fenugreek seeds
2 whole cloves
3 whole white cardamom pods
1 quill of cinnamon, about  7 cm long, or a thumb-sized piece of cassia bark
2 large onions (about 400g), peeled and very finely chopped (or grated, or whizzed to a slush in a food processor)
340 ml coconut milk
2 t (10 ml) powdered cumin
freshly milled black pepper

To serve: 
a handful of chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]

Remove all bones from the fish and cut into large (about 5cm x 5cm) chunks.  Place in a bowl and add half the prepared garlic and ginger (reserve the rest) , and all the chilli powder, turmeric and salt.  Toss so that every cube of fish is well coated with the seasonings, cover, and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Put the cube of tamarind pulp in a bowl and add 200 ml warm water. Set aside to soften for 20 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and when it is very hot, but not smoking, add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon quill. Sizzle the spices in the hot oil until the mustard seeds begin to pop and crackle. Add the onions and the reserved ginger and garlic, turn down the flame and fry over a brisk heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are a rich golden brown.  (At this point, you can, if you want to, tip the mixture into a sieve and drain off any excess oil.)

Using your fingers, mash and crush the now-softened tamarind pulp into its soaking water.  Strain the water into a little clean bowl, pressing down hard on the pulp to extract all the juices. Discard the pulp and add the tamarind water to the fried onions, along with the coconut cream, cumin and milled black pepper.  Stir well and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove the marinated fish from the fridge and tip it into the sauce. Toss gently to combine.  Turn up the heat and simmer, over a low flame, until the fish chunks are just cooked through (about 7 minutes). Do not stir or mash, as this will disturb the fish chunks: rather give the pan a gentle shake.

Serve hot, with a shower of chopped fresh coriander, and Basmati rice.

Serves 4
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Maryon said...

This looks mouthwatering and just what the doctor ordered in a cold and snowy UK. I am going to try it with Monkfish or Halibut as Kabeljou are a bit thin on the ground here....mores the pity!
I can just picture you buying your fish in Hout bay....very enviously.

Nina Timm said...

Flaky white fish in this absolutely deliciously flavored does not get any better than this......

Rose&Thorn said...

Copy, paste and print - it's in my file! I love fish like this! Reminds me a little of pickled fish? Yummy, Yummy, yummy!

Juno said...

Ja, not a lot of kabeljou roaming the snowy meadows of England, Maryon! Nina, thank you. Rose, it does look like pickled fish, now that you mention it. And boy do I love pickled fish.

Cindy said...

I am trying it tonight with chicken (breast fillets) as no such gorgrous fish abound in Stellenbosch! Shall report back....

Jeanne said...

That looks glorious! I don't make enough fish curries. And like a prevous poster said, I envy you the easy availability of kabeljou!

Anonymous said...

Kudos for the link to SASSI, but note that "orange" doesn't really mean 'use with caution' - more like not actually illegal but definitely unsustainable...

Cindy said...

It is simply FABULOUS with chicken. Ate it at room temperature with a big dollop of plain yoghurt. No cutlery. Just deep bowls and a warm wholewheat pita to scoop.The sauce is gorgeously thick. Thank you for a new favourite standby! Can well imagine how divine it will be tomorrow.......

Juno said...

Thanks Jeanne for your ever-cheerful comments!

Anon, thanks for that heads-up: but what exactly does 'orange' mean? I have taken the words 'use with caution' at face value. Should I not buy kabeljou at all? If this is the case, waaahhhh. But I wholly support SASSI and will do whatever is necessary.

Cindy, glad ya liked it, and thanks for the redcurrants. My new redcurrant recipe is cooling in the oven as as speak. x

Superchef said...

the spiced gravy is a killer!! Thanks for dropping by my blog :)

small home said...

I want to try out the coconut gravy. It sounds delicious! It made my mouth water!

Helen said...

Made this today, improvising somewhat. I didn't have fish, so used chicken breast, and also added in a few cooked chickpeas I had in the fridge. Also, I left out cloves (can't stand 'em) and cardamom (run out) but threw in a whole star anise and a couple of curry leaves instead. It was absolutely wonderful - rich complex taste and lovely creamy sauce. Can't wait to try it with fish. Thanks for the recipe!