With this curry you needn’t worry about fat content, calories or a – typically Indian – neverending list of ingredients. The recipe is so simple, I was surprised the short cooking process turned my rather bland fish fillets into a fantastic, beautifully scented Indian treat.
Having tested already several dishes from Rick Stein’s India. In Search of the Perfect Curry, I should have known that, like always, I wouldn’t be disappointed this time. His book has completely changed my – apparently false – idea of the place this category of products occupies in Indian cuisine and encouraged to explore more from this fascinating, well developped chapter. His Squid Curry (posted here) was and still is one of the most delicious Indian and in general seafood dishes I have ever had. Contrary to squid, fish curry is something easily found on restaurants’ menu, but it has always seemed the most neglected dish. Nominated by the author as his favourite curry, this tangy dish proves that not only a fish Indian dish can be genuinely exciting, but it can also become a staple light and quick weekday meal.
As usually, I have slightly modified the recipe, so check Rick Stein’s book to read the original.
TIPS: Fresh curry leaves can be difficult to obtain for many of you, but if you have a possibility to buy them, do not hesitate: their powerful pungent aroma makes this curry unforgettable. At worst you can use dried or frozen leaves, but do not expect a similar strength. I don’t think there is a substitute for curry leaves, so if you cannot get them, just skip them.
While curry leaves are sold in Indian or Pakistani grocery shops, tamarind paste can be find in Chinese/Vietnamese shops too and, in general, it should be much more easier to obtain.
Keep on tasting the dish and adjust the acidity: I found myself adding much more tamarind paste than advised because somehow tangy sauce went better with this fish.
Tamarind is sold in three forms (from what I have noticed): fresh (I have never used), plastic-wrapped blocks, which are diluted in hot water and then strained to obtain a “juice” or ready-to-use pastes (jam consistency) in jars. I prefer blocks because they keep for years and are tangier. (See below how to use them.) Tamarind pastes/jams are ready to use but since I stopped using them a long time ago I have no idea which amount corresponds to the below tamarind “juice”, so if you use this form, keep on tasting and adjust to your preferences.
Preparation: about 30 minutes
Ingredients (serves 4 if served only with rice and a vegetable side-dish):
700 g (about 1,5 oz) firm fish fillets or whole fish chunks, cut into big pieces (the author suggests oily fish as the best, but my lean fish fillets were also delicious)
a 4 cm square of tamarind block
3 tablespoons oil
1 big onion
3 big garlic cloves, crushed or grated
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon Kashmiri chilli powder (or any chilli powder you have)
1 tablespoon powdered coriander
1 tablespoon turmeric
30 fresh curry leaves
400 g (about 14 oz) canned tomatoes or fresh chopped tomatoes or chunky tomato sauce
2 very hot green chillies or 4 medium hot
salt to taste
Put the tamarind block square into a glass or bowl and pour about 150 ml boiling water over it. Stir well until it dissolves more or less and put aside. (If you have tamarind paste/jam, start with one tablespoon and then adjust the taste; I have no idea how much of this product should be used).
Chop the onion.
Salt slightly the fish fillets or chunks.
Cut the small chillies lengthwise into thin strips or if they are bigger, into diagonal slices.
Give the tamarind liquid a good stir and strain, pressing to a fine strainer.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the mustard seeds for 30 seconds.
Add the onion and stir fry for about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and stir fry until the onion becomes light golden (make sure none of them burns).
Add the ground spices (chilli powder, coriander, turmeric) and the curry leaves.
Stir fry for about 1 or 2 minutes (you might need to add some oil here if the spices stick too much).
Add the strained 100 ml of tamarind “juice”, the tomatoes, the chillies and season with salt.
Let the sauce simmer for 10 more minutes.
Adjust the flavours (adding more tamarind juice if needed).
Place the fish delicately on top. Cover and cook until the fish is ready (5-10 minutes).