Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fish Curry: Authentic and easy

With several friends visiting Malaysia and sending back daily updates and photos, I was indirectly reminded of some of the cooking I learned when we lived in that country for much of the 70s.

In particular, an Indian fish curry came to mind, one I used to make frequently back then. What set it apart from other curries, which I often still cook, is the ease of making it. I learned it as a "korma," one of the curries with a smooth, fragrant but not too hot sauce.

Ironically that fish dish was not like the typical fish curries we got at Indian restaurants or at the homes of friends. Rather it was based on a recipe from a cookbook (which I still have) written by "Mrs. P Majumdar," an Indian woman living in Singapore. At some later point, I met Mrs. Majumdar's daughter, and found out that her mother was from Bengal, in eastern India, an area with fairly different cooking from what we had in Malaysia.

I had changed a number of things in the recipe, but kept the core principle of marinating the fish in spices, lime juice, and yogurt, then cooking it quickly.

Here it is, filtered through my memory and made with ingredients available in the US. Having revived it recently and guineapigged it on some neighbors who are long-time friends, I don't understand why I neglected it for so long.

The recipe serves six, accompanied by lightly salted rice and a vegetable curry, yogurt, and chutneys. The dish went well with an unoaked Chardonnay when we tested it with our friends.

Fish Korma after that of Mrs. Majumdar

1-1/2 pounds tilapia, either very fresh or still frozen
4 teaspoons lime juice
8 tablespoons yogurt, whole milk or low fat
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 small-medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
2 small bay leaves
2 small sticks cinnamon, broken in half
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro, including part of stems, for serving

If fish is still frozen, thaw quickly in lukewarm water. If fresh, rinse fish. Cut in 1-inch squares and place in bowl.

Marinate with lime juice, yogurt, salt and ground spices for at least 20 miuntes. (Or mix ahead and store up to several hours refrigerated.) Prepare onion, garlic, and ginger.

Heat oil in heavy pan. Add whole spices and let splutter while stirring for several seconds. Add onion and fry, stirring frequently, until starting to turn golden. Add ginger, garlic, and sugar. Fry one minute. Add water, and let boil half a minute.

Add fish and all its marinade. Over medium-high heat, bring just to a full bubble, stirring carefully so as not to break up fish. This will be enough to cook the fish. Remove from heat.

Taste sauce, and add salt if needed. Serve immediately, accompanied by lightly salted rice.

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