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.
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
a handful of chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]
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 Print Friendly