Keralan Fish Curry

4 March 2012

Post image for Keralan Fish Curry

With spring just around the corner, my thoughts have been turning to more light and fresh meals. A cookbook which I frequently turn to during the warmer months is Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer (curiously re-titled as Nigella Fresh in the US). Not that it is necessarily a book which should only be opened once the weather starts to warm up  – I often cook from this book in winter, too – but I like that it happens to be a book which I associate with summer, no matter the season I am in. Obviously what Nigella had intended when she wrote this book.

A recipe which I have earmarked since first purchasing the book, oh, 10 years ago (?!) but which I have regretfully never gotten around to making is the Keralan Fish Curry with Lemon Rice. With many thanks to Jodie over at the delightful and ever happy blog, Jo Blogs, I finally got the nudge that I needed after reading her insightful and playful review of this recipe.

Anyone who has lived in a country with close proximity to the ocean (like Australia) who has then moved to a land-locked country (like Switzerland), will know of the disappointment in finding fresh seafood, or a fish monger for that fact. In Australia, I was familiar with certain types of fish which my mum used to buy and cook, and I would faithfully replicate her recipes at home using the exact ingredients, right down to the brands of the food, often even going to the same butcher or fishmonger. Upon moving to Switzerland, I was sad to find that the likes of Silver Bream and Barramundi don’t quite make it to this side of the world, and I have been too nervous to sample the fish from the northern hemisphere, not least because any trial and error would cost me a small fortune.

But after some experimenting with the reasonably priced and fairly nice-tasting Pangasius, albeit imported all the way from Vietnam, I have at least found one type of fish which I am comfortable with using in Asian dishes.

This fish curry is surprisingly simple to make with not as many ingredients as you would expect from an ordinary curry. Simply flavoured with turmeric, ginger and cumin, this gentle curry is warming but without too much spice. And if you are tempted to add other ingredients to bulk it up – like I was – my advice is to try and refrain from fiddling with the recipe. It really is fabulous just as it is. The generous amount of onions are a main ingredient alongside the fish, instead of merely forming part of the flavour base.

Nigella suggests serving this with a Lemon Rice which you make by simply warming some oil in a medium saucepan before adding 250 g of basmati rice. Stir the rice in the pan, giving it a good coating of oil. Add half a teaspoon each of turmeric and dried mint, and stir some more. Finely zest one lemon directly into the rice and then squeeze in the juice of the lemon. Pour in about 500 ml of water and add a pinch of salt. Give everything a good stir before popping on the lid and turning down the heat to low. Let the rice cook for about 30 minutes, by which time the rice should have absorbed all of the liquid. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving. Nigella suggets toasting 1 tablespoon of black mustard seeds to sprinkle on the cooked rice, but I skipped this step, preferring to save on the washing. I found that the Lemon Rice took hardly anymore effort than making plain steamed rice, and it’s happy yellow but slightly sour tones complimented the tart tamarind taste of the fish curry.

The Lemon Rice apparently feeds 4 to 6 people, and given that Nigella isn’t the type to go for small portions, hubby and I were somewhat surprised that we finished all of the rice between ourselves. I’m sure Nigella would be proud ;-)

Overall, I found this to be an incredibly easy dish to make during the week. The bonus was not having to make a special trip to the Asian grocer for any unusual ingredients – I found everything easily at my local supermarket. I’m just sorry that I left it so long to try this amazing dish, something which I intend to make up for by adding it to my weekly favourites.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Caroline 4 March 2012 at 6:25 pm

Lovely!! This is comfort food for me and is something I ate most of the week growing up, so its embedded deeply into my food habits. It’s pretty close to the real deal as well and pretty healthy. You can use any white fish Thanh, including oily ones like sardine and mackarels (cut into steaks, across the bone) though its best to use these fish fresh, otherwise the natural oils lend a more concentrated fish taste. I’m so glad you didn’t allow yourself too add more in this case. Its beautiful as it is ;-)

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eat, little bird 6 March 2012 at 8:28 pm

I can see why this is comfort food to you. This bowl contained the leftovers which I had for lunch the next day and it was so delicious just with a bowl of plain, steamed rice. I could come home to this for lunch everyday! I’ve cooked with fresh sardines before so I might try that next time in this curry. As for mackerel, I’ve only seen it frozen here, unfortunately. Can’t wait to make this again!

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Jo 4 March 2012 at 7:20 pm

Yay and lol! How fab that I promoted you to not only taste this dish but go ahead and blog it anyway Thanh! You really *must* have loved it! ;). And a tip for the lemon rice – I toast my nigella seeds in the pot I cook the rice in, just tip them into a wee pot after toasting and leave aside for sprinkling at the end. I like to think it’s another layer of flavour plus as you’ve noted, one less pan to wash up after! ;)

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eat, little bird 6 March 2012 at 9:35 pm

Oh I’m so glad you blogged about this because I honestly needed to read a review like yours to finally make me try this recipe. And it’s so simple that I can’t believe I left it this long!

I didn’t plan on blogging about this recipe, but my lunch appointment the following day was cancelled and I found myself at home for lunch and suddenly grabbed the opportunity to take a few snaps before heading back to the office :-)

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Anita Menon 5 March 2012 at 9:02 am

It seems like the kind of fish we would make in the South of India in a state called Kerala..
It looks delicious and Lemon rice – we make that at home all the time and enjoy it with a seasoned yogurt

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eat, little bird 6 March 2012 at 9:38 pm

This was my first attempt at a lemon rice and I really loved it. It went really well with this curry that I plan on making it always together – it’s a nice change from having plain steamed rice which we eat most nights.

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The Food Sage 5 March 2012 at 10:38 am

Fish curries are great, aren’t they. I have a few recipes passed along from family members. I like your description of this curry as being ‘gentle’ it explains a lot. Pangasius sounds interesting. Good on you for experimenting so far from home.
Thanks for sharing.

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eat, little bird 6 March 2012 at 9:40 pm

Soon after I published this post, someone emailed me a warning about eating farmed Pangasius fish … I guess I have to look into this one further! I think some more experimenting with fish sounds like a good idea anyway.

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Denise 5 March 2012 at 11:23 am

This is so funny: I bought Forever Summer about 10 years ago as well and immediately recognized this recipe when I saw your post title. And: I’ve also never tried it and somehow completely forgot about it. That is, until now! It looks delicious and it’s definitely on my must-try list now!

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eat, little bird 6 March 2012 at 9:44 pm

LOL!!! It does sound alarming when you think of how long you have owned this book, doesn’t it? Makes me feel like there is a treasure-trove worth of recipes that I still have to get around to making. Must do that before I get too old ;-)

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Tabitha 5 March 2012 at 5:47 pm

Coming from Kerala myself, the curry looks good…, but not sure if it’s actually called kerelan fish curry or just simply kerala fish curry…. Good going though!

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eat, little bird 6 March 2012 at 9:47 pm

Oh my stars!!! Thank you for pointing out my spelling mistake! Nigella calls it Keralan Fish Curry and I simply went with her title, albeit with a crucial spelling mistake! If this is any indication of what Keralan food is like, I can’t wait to explore this cuisine further!

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The Flourishing Foodie 6 March 2012 at 11:55 pm

I am quite fortunate to live in Seattle where we have the most delicious seafood. I love a good fish curry. I made this one http://www.flourishingfoodie.com/2011/11/coconut-fish-curry-with-tomatoes.html a while back. I will have to give your recipe a go, although I may have to sub the fish for a local variety. I do adore lemon rice.

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eat, little bird 7 March 2012 at 12:58 pm

Ooh your recipe sounds delicious! I love tomatoes in curries and actually thought about adding them to this particular recipe of Nigella’s, though I didn’t want to interfere too much with the recipe the first time around. How lucky you are to be near fresh food – it’s what we eat most when we travel because we eat so little of it at home.

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Reem | Simply Reem 11 March 2012 at 3:50 am

Drown me in that bowl of comfort!!!!
This is fabulous Just simply tooo good….
B/W Isn’t Nigella just awesome…. ;-)

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eat, little bird 14 March 2012 at 7:00 pm

I see that you are familiar with this dish :-)

I am a big fan of Nigella and her recipes continually surprise me. I was already thinking of making this fish curry again this week!

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Liz Headon 13 March 2012 at 2:18 am

This is the sort of curry I can persuade myself I might like (with much less chilli, naturally) because I can tell that the flavour of the fish would still come through.

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eat, little bird 14 March 2012 at 7:01 pm

Hi Liz,

This curry is definitely all about the fish, and the onions serve as a nice vege component. I think you could definitely leave the chillies out and this curry would still taste lovely. I usually only add a tiny amount when cooking and then serve freshly sliced chillies on the side, mostly because my tolerance for heat is not the same as hubby’s ;-)

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At Anna's Kitchen Table 17 March 2012 at 11:30 pm

I haven’t made this dish for years! I remember enjoying it, but then other recipes take over and a delicious, nourishing dish is placed on the ‘virtual’ shelf.
Thanks for the reminder Thanh, it’s nice to think that it’s almost ‘Forever Summer’ time. :))

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eat, little bird 20 March 2012 at 6:54 pm

You’re welcome ;-) I am also looking forward to “Forever Summer” time, though I do seem to cook from it throughout the year, but hopefully I can try different recipes this time around. I can’t believe it took me this long to make this lovely curry!

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