Irene came over for dinner last night and I decided to make something a little special. One of the newest additions to my cookbook collection is a wonderful book (which I fear may be out of print) called Curry Cuisine containing curry-based dishes from India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, as well as several “outposts” including Japan and numerous African and Caribbean countries. After careful consideration, I settled on a Singaporean sour fish curry (local name above).
I quickly realized that a trip to Fairway would not suffice for all that I needed so I headed to Chinatown to Bangkok Center Grocery, a Thai supermarket. There I acquired some key ingredients including coconut cream, thai green chilies, lemongrass, and tamarind paste. I had to improvise with the tamarind as my sour ingredient as the fruit the recipe called for (belimbing wuluh) was nowhere to be found.
In order to make tamarind water, which is what I added to the curry, I soaked the tamarind paste in boiling water, let it sit, then strained out the pulp.
Meanwhile, my dessert muffins came out of the oven just as I set my fish (which I had skinned and cubed) to marinate.
Next, I made the curry paste — no short cuts from a jar this time — which got cooked together with the coconut cream, tamarind juice, and lemongrass. Then I added the fish and let it simmer to cook and enhance all the flavors, done.
As a side dish I served red swiss chard. First I sauteed the stems (diced very small) together with the leaves (chiffonaded). To the finished product I added toasted pine nuts and a balsamic vinegar reduction. It was simple, quick, and delicious. I also made some wild rice to soak up the neon yellow (thanks to the turmeric) curry.
Dinner ended on a sweet note with my chocolate chocolate chip muffins, which I cut in half and stuffed with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Something tells me Irene will be back the next time she’s in NYC. But, before that, she’s promised me a home-cooked Korean meal the next time I’m in Seattle (which will be at the end of April). Can’t wait.
Singaporean Sour Fish Curry
Adapted from Curry Cuisine by Vivek Singh et al.
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp lime juice
black pepper, to taste
2 lbs halibut cut into 2 inch cubes
2 1/2 cups coconut cream
tamarind water (made by soaking 1 oz tamarind paste in 1/2 cup boiling water, then straining)
1 stalk lemongrass, cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise
6 shallots, chopped
2 small green chilies (or to taste), seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp peanut oil (coconut oil can be substituted in the case of allergies)
1. Mix together the first four ingredients in a non-reactive bowl. Add the fish chunks. Mix fish so that it is evenly coated with the marinade and set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Blend together all of the paste ingredients and 2 tbsp water in a food processor until smooth.
3. Put 3 tbsp of the coconut cream into a saucepan big enough to accommodate all of the fish chunks. Heat over medium high heat for about 5 minutes then add the paste and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add the tamarind water and the lemongrass. Add half the remaining coconut cream and bring to a boil. Allow the mixture to simmer rapidly until it has reduced by half, about 8 minutes.
4. Add the remaining coconut cream and bring back to a boil, then add the fish. Simmer until the fish is cooked through, turning the chunks once in between, about 6 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and adjust seasoning to taste. Remove the lemongrass. Cover the pan and allow the fish to sit in the sauce for another few minutes. Serve immediately with rice and a vegetable side of your choice.