I am a big fan of Goan fish curry. For years, my regular lunch partner, Greg, and I traversed the curry houses of Sydney enjoying this dish. We remember really good ones at the Malabar restaurants, in Crows Nest and, more recently, in Darlinghurst. We love its fishy broth, spicy taste, sour finish. For us, it is an essential part of a great long curry lunch. So I knew what I would be cooking and eating next weekend when Helen from Grab Your Fork recently included a Goan Fish Curry recipe, as part of an extended interview with Kumar Mahadevan of Aki's Indian restaurant in Woolloomooloo.
Goa is a small state on the west coast of India, which was a Portuguese territory for about 450 years, until 1961. It has strong Portuguese influences in its food, including the use of onions and garlic, and vinegar in the famous vindaloo dishes.
A couple of comments on the recipe:
The grated fresh coconut — Hold your coconut over the sink and give a few sharp taps with a hammer. This will crack it neatly around the equator, into two halves. Now the fun begins. If, like me, you only have implements ill-adapted to the purpose, scraping the coconut meat out of the shell will be a tedious process. You need a proper coconut scraper, an apprentice, or, preferably, both. Do not start to make this dish until you have been to an Indian grocer and bought a cheap coconut scraper!
The fish — I used ling fillets, which were available when I shopped, and produce a fine result. But next time I will go for an oilier fish, such as Spanish mackerel cutlets. Whatever you get, you want a fairly robust fish, that will not fall apart during poaching. I think this would be great using soaked bacalhau, which would echo the Portuguese influences on Goan cuisine.
My marsala paste was not as smooth as I like it, due to a last-minute mortar & pestle imbroglio. Not a huge problem, as the crunchy bits will settle in the broth before serving. The recipe is vague about how much water to add to make your curry. Suit yourself — I think one of the joys of this dish is the fairly thin, soupy broth, so I added enough water to achieve this. Experiment! The recipe also calls for tamarind powder. I only had block tamarind, so followed the usual process of steeping, straining, sieving. Add to taste — I think the tamarind sourness is an essential part of the flavour, so don’t hold back — add enough tamarind to bring this out.
And the final product? It is a great curry. Thick fish steaks swimming in a thin but rich, tasty broth, with distinct fishy character, a moderate spice kick, and lovely, tangy sour flavour from the tamarind. I teamed it with lots of rice to soak up the broth, and a dry curry of spinach and lentils, to give textural variation. And Bolst’s lime pickle, to carry on the sour spicy feel. Delicious!
This is a delicious, relatively simple dish to make, once you have your grated fresh coconut sorted. Try it soon, enjoy, then head off to Aki’s to compare with the original!
And thanks, Helen, for the great recipe!