12 November 2010

South Indian Fish Curry - My Mom's Recipe

South Indian Fish Curry...Mmm!
You might remember, a while ago, I declared shamelessly that I cannot cook Indian food. This post is not where I tell you that I can finally cook! Nope. I just want to reiterate the fact that Indian food, with all its coconut and weird garnishing and all those powders in varying shades of brown and yellow, with all those herbs....IT'S JUST DRIVING ME CRAAAAAAAZZZZYYYYY! Sorry, that rant might have erupted from the fact that I burnt perfectly good carrot-beans poriyal today morning... sigh.
Anyway, as a responsible South Indian wife, living in Kanyakumari district, it is my bounden duty to learn to make fish curry...yes, we live in the 18th century here. Why do you ask?! So, I learnt it, by god, I learnt it. I decided I was going to learn to make it, if it killed me...(sometimes, it very nearly did!) My 'women's lib' flag holder friends are going to hate me for this. But the fact is, that everyone here makes wonderful fish curry, and I hated the fact that I couldn't make any to satisfy my fish cravings! I already tried one recipe, but then it was like a tornado - never know when it takes off, and where it will hit, but damage always ensues! Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the recipe, it's the way I make it that is so off the point! So, if you want to make that fish curry, go right ahead. As for me, this recipe which my mom shared with me, is what has finally satisfied that fish curry craving I have been carrying around for centuries!

My Mom's Spicy Fish Curry
Things you need:

- 1/2 kg fish (you can use any kind, but the fun kind of fish is one that doesn't have too many bones to pick! Go ahead and use your favorite)
- 1 cup fresh coconut scraped (or whatever they call it, when you use that thing to get this - now that's amazing technology, and the main reason for the ultra-small hip sizes our mothers used to have!)
- 1/2 onion - 1 half of the half (stay with me) should be chopped, and the other half should be used whole.
- 3 cloves of garlic (or 4 if they are small in size)
- 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds
- 2-3 whole black pepper seeds
- half of a medium-sized tomato (make sure it's ripe and red)
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp fine red-chilli powder

- 1-2 tbsp pure coconut oil
- 1-2 tbsp cooking oil (sunflower oil, or something which does not have a strong flavor)
- 1 tsp mustard seeds   (just tiny black things that pop like crazy!)
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds. They are tiny, but they pack a flavor-punch!
- 1 inch of very dark tamarind dissolved in 100ml of water. Remember, the darker the tamarind, the more sour it is. If what you have is a lighter shade, go ahead and use more than 1 inch of it.
- 1 inch of fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1-2 green chillies (optional- hold on, I'll tell you why)
- 1 sprig of curry leaves
- 1 sprig of fresh cumin leaves (I think some people call it 'parsley')
- salt to taste

Here's what you do:
1. First take all ingredients, beginning from the scraped coconut till the red-chilli powder on the list above. Drop everything except the onion, into your grinder/mixer/blender. 

2. Cut the onion in half. You need only the quarter of an onion for the paste. Drop this into the mixer, along with everything else.
3. Grind the ingredients to a fine paste in a blender/mixer, adding a small quantity of water to enable smooth grinding. Keep the paste aside.

2. In a wok, or a clay pot (the mud pot is best), heat the cooking oil. Note: You can use coconut oil here, but I am terribly turned off by the smell of heating coconut oil! It fills the house, and the smell is overpowering. So, I just go with some harmless vegetable oil.

3. When the oil has heated, drop in the mustard seeds and the fenugreek seeds. Wait till the mustard pops. 

4. Immediately, drop in the chopped quarter of an onion, and saute. 

5. When the onion changes color, or becomes whiter, drop in the paste that you made earlier. Please do not let the onion saute to a brown color. The flavor of well-sauteed onion will only go well with other meat preparations (like chicken curry). We need everyone in this recipe to stay fresh and dainty!

6. Now, give the paste a good stir in the pot. Add a couple of teaspoons of water and cover the pot. Keep the flame in simmer, and let the whole mixture come to a slow boil. This could take you anything from 3 to 5 minutes. DO NOT let the mixture boil away to glory! You will be disappointed...Remember, it's all about keeping things fresh and lively

7. When the mixture has boiled once, add the fish and salt to taste (I would suggest that you add a tiny bit more than you usually do, since it will complement the spice and sourness well).

8. Cover the pot again, and let it cook on high flame. After 8 to 10 minutes, carefully lift the lid and take a peek. I say 'carefully', because for some strange reason this curry tends to sputter like a volcano! Why? Beats me! So, unless you want to walk around smelling like fish curry, and making everyone salivate, including the neighbor's cat, be careful when you lift the lid!)

9. Lift a piece of fish out of the curry, and see if it has taken on the color of the gravy. If it is still whitish or pale, cover the gravy and let it boil some more. If the fish has turned yellow, and looks cooked, go ahead to the next step.

10. Next step - Strain the tamarind paste, removing all the seeds and the other stuff that doesn't dissolve. Pour this into the curry and give it a slow stir. 

11. You can also add the chopped ginger at this point. No sauteing needed. Don't worry, the fresh ginger taste does something awesome for this recipe! Now let the curry boil for a minute, with the pot uncovered. 

12. If the gravy is too thick, you can add a little water to ease things up a bit. If you want a thick gravy, it's fine. Just make sure it doesn't burn.

13. Taste the curry (very important step! Really!) to see if the balance of the salt, sourness, and the spice is right. You can add the sliced green chillies that you put on hold, if you feel that the heat is not enough. The spice, salt, and sourness  should not overpower each other. When you taste it, it should feel delicious! If it does, you've hit the spot! When it comes to fish curry, it's all about the balance.

13. Now, pour in the coconut oil, as the curry is boiling.

14. Finally, chop up the curry leaves and the cumin leaves and drop them right on top of the oil on the curry.

15. Cover the pot and turn off the stove. You're Done!

16. After a couple of minutes, when all the boiling is done (yes it will continue to boil for a while, even after the stove is switched off) you can taste and enjoy!

This recipe received great reviews from everyone who had this. It's a little bit of hard work but the effort is totally worth it.

That's the story of how I finally learnt Lesson 1 of 'Being a Good South Indian Wife'.

I discontinued the course, so that's all the subject knowledge I have, and I'm fine with that!! :P


dazzlingray said...

Lol...Nice Post..Tanx for the recipe - an unfortunate South Indian wife ;-)

Jane Hamilton said...

Thanks @dazzlingray! Yep...and aren't we all in some ways - An Unfortunate South Indian Wife?!! :D

Aravind T said...

@Jane Hamilton : Mam, Tasty recepie..
@dazzlingray : Hi do u know cooking?

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