Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sri Lankan fish curry

Serves 4

This amazingly fragrant, and yet so simple curry, or padha as it is known, was one of the myriad of sensations I picked up while in Sri Lanka late last year. The place for me was more than a holiday destination… more than just food even, but the discovery of a richness of the people and their culture. I was fortunate enough to witness, and particiapate in the cooking of some inspired dishes cooked in such primitive fashion, but all with a uniqueness unseen by me before.
The classic spicy food myth of raw spices needed to be cooked out to develop their flavour was completely thrown out the window as I'd expected a highly spiced version of the varied and complex style of Indian food including lots of raw harsh spices, particularly chilli. In reality it is a lot of simple, humble combinations that really are an attack on the senses.
And this recipe is a perfect example, start to finish in about 30 minutes - and when I did this for the first time, in Deepika's kitchen in the southern coast village of Mihiripanna, it was literally in mud fired pots on open flames in a hole in the wall - and was all the more delicious for it!

150ml groundnut oil
500g dense fish – tuna, mackerel or monkfish work – filleted
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp coarse salt
Juice of 3 limes
½ tsp turmeric
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
A couple of curry leaves
A few green chillies, split in half
250ml thick coconut milk
1 tblsp chilli powder (amount varies according to your taste)
1 tblsp cumin (fresh if possible)
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
Carefully slice the fish fillets into bite size pieces, wash and pat dry, then season with the salt and pepper, lime juice and turmeric. Pan fry in a little of the oil till just crisp on each side, remove and drain on absorbent paper.

Grind together the garlic, onion and cumin, preferably in a pestle and mortar, alternatively just briefly in a food processor trying to retain some texture to the ingredients.

Heat the remaining oil and fry the ground paste until a wonderful fragrant aroma rises, then add the tomatoes and blend together well. Add the curry leaves, chillies and another pinch of salt and fry for few more minutes.

Add the fried fish and the coconut milk and simmer gently for up to another 20 minutes, serve straight away, but it does it no harm to allow to cool and gently re-heat later on.

Goes well with rice or bread to soak up the juices, and traditionally eaten with a spicy accompaniment called sambal – and always eaten with your fingers, no cutlery required for this.