Frying for Friars: Coconut Fish Curry for a Friday
Goa, on the west coast of India, has a large Christian community and culture. Much of this is due to nearly 500 years of Portuguese rule but tradition holds that St. Bartholomew brought the faith to Konkan, just as his fellow Apostle, St. Thomas did to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. There are just under 400,000 Goan Catholics in the state of Goa itself and about 100,000 throughout India. There are also just over a million Goan Catholics throughout the world. There are large populations in Portugal, Canada, and in Swindon and London. Goan Catholics have a rich and vibrant culture. Kokani literature, and music have been a great influence on ‘Bollywood’ but most Europeans would probably come into contact with the traditional cuisine of this people. As an undergraduate in Leicester I first came into contact with Goan Catholic cuisine at the amazing Anjuna Restaurant. I quickly became a frequent visitor. Their curries contain lots of coconut and fish is a speciality, as might be expected. There is also a Portuguese influence, especially seen in Dukra Roast Maas and Sorpotel, two splendid pork dishes. The Vindaloo is also of Goan Catholic origin but to find a good one on the British high street is becoming all too much of a rarity.
It is usual in Oxford for members of the community to cook at the weekend, but nevertheless the brothers are sometimes called upon to don their aprons during the week. If I have to cook on a Friday my first port of call is a Goan-inspired fish curry. It is a quick, effort-light tasty meal that is easy to make for twenty-plus people (all the measurements given below serve 4 people).
For the Curry:
1 lb skinless pollock 2 chopped onions
& 1 can of chopped tomatoes 300ml coconut milk
turmeric, chilli powder, cumin seeds,
& a pinch of garam masala
For the Rice:
4 cardamom pods,
2 cinnamon sticks,
pinch saffron threads,
2 bay leaves
(I had to use ground cinnamon
1lb Basmati Rice but sticks are better)
You will also need some fresh coriander, butter, olive oil, 1 pint of vegetable stock and salt
1) Wash the rice in several changes of cold water,
then leave to soak for about 30 minutes
in fresh cold water. This will ensure you have nice fluffy rice
2) Chop the fish into nice large chunks
3) Have a cup of tea (or say the Divine Office) whilst waiting for the rice to fluff up. Then sieve the rice and put to the side. Then, in a pot, cook half the onions in a generous knob of butter. When the onion softens add the spices, saffron and bay leaves and cook for a couple more minutes. The spices will give a wonderful fragrant flavour to the rice. Add the rice and stir until the grains are coated in the butter before stirring in the stock and throw in some salt.
4) Bring to the boil and cover the pan with aluminium foil before putting the lid on. Turn the heat down low and leave to cook for 10 minutes before turning off the heat. Don’t remove the lid; just leave the rice to continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes.
5)Whilst the rice is still cooking, heat the oil in a large pan and add the cumin seeds. When they start sizzling pop in half of the onions and fry until they start to turn golden.
6) Lower the heat and add the tomatoes and green chilli, and leave them for a couple of minutes. Then add ground turmeric and chilli powder. Stir, then season , then stir some more.
7)When the oil separates throw in the garam masala and stir in the coconut milk. Heat for a couple of minutes and then stir in the fish, making sure it is covered in the sauce. .
8) Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for 15-20 minutes. You can cook for longer but the fish will start to break up. This will not affect the taste but gives the dish a more mushy texture. Serve with the rice and any other subcontinental side dishes you desire. I am a bit partial to naan bread so got some pre-made ones to save time and effort. When ready to serve blitz the coriander and sprinkle over the curry.