There is something absolutely magical about India; the light, the colours, the noise. I love the red soil and the cows, the chattering swarms of kids, the smells everywhere. Even the insane driving and yelling. I sink into it. It’s a happy place for me. Every year I promise myself I will just go to India for Christmas and New Year, but somehow I haven’t made it – not since 1990-something because my damn family keep getting in the way. I really need to shake them off. (I’m kidding. Well, mostly). But maybe this will be the year…
But it’s just a simple bowl of fresh, spicy heaven. Somehow the heat and the colour seem to be exactly representative of the fire and warmth of Goa itself
One of my enduring memories of Goa is the underrated ‘fish curry rice’ which anyone who has been there will recognize immediately. It’s a kind of bastardised Portuguese piri-piri type thing, with a deep red colour, and a tangy, sour tamarind sauce, served simply on fluffy white rice and using fish straight from the local sea; kingfish I think, mostly (although I will bow to anyone’s greater knowledge if I’m wrong about that). But it’s just a simple bowl of fresh, spicy heaven. Somehow the heat and the colour seem to be exactly representative of the fire and warmth of Goa itself, and it’s hard to find anything like it created for the British palate – which seems odd, given the volumes of people traveling to Goa and Kerala every year.
I recently found a restaurant in Dorset, of all places, who boldly claimed to be able to try and match anything you’d eaten in Southern India if you wanted to go off-piste with the menu and I asked for something like the Goan fish curry. Actually, although they didn’t have the right fish, they came bloody close, so well done Chutneys in Shaftesbury. But it’s given me a hankerin’.
So in celebration of National Curry Week (which was last week) I have tracked this recipe down, by Atul Kochhar. It’s pretty close, and I reckon with a bit of practice and some tweaking (maybe a bit more hot/sour for me personally), I can almost make this perfect. It makes a big difference grinding your own spices, so try not to short-cut that bit. And I’m a fan of having the fish cooked in the gravy for the more authentic touch, although be careful not to overcook the fish and make it chewy. To go with it, obviously chug a cold (Kingfisher) beer, and serve it with white fluffy or basmati rice… and dream of sandy white beaches…
Atul Kochhar’s Goan Fish Curry
Goa Peixe Kari
Typical of Goan curries, this is hot and spicy with a sour tang from tamarind, and it has thin gravy. I love the heat. It’s just so beautiful.
Here I’ve pan-fried the sea bass fillet for a stylish, restaurant-style presentation, but if you want to turn this into a sharing curry to put in the centre of the table, cut the fish into bite-sized pieces and gently simmer them in the gravy until the flesh flakes easily. This quantity will then serve four to six people, and all you need with it is a bowl of basmati rice to complete the meal. Cod and pollack are other suitable fish to use, but they should simmer for just a bit longer.
2 tablespoons onion paste (you can buy this in jars or Google a recipe)
2 tablespoons canned chopped tomatoes
250ml coconut milk
2 tablespoons tamarind liquid, or to taste
1 long thin green chilli
4 large sea bass fillets, skin on
Fresh coriander sprigs, to garnish
For the spice powder:
2 large dried red chillis
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Assemble all the ingredients and equipment before you begin. You need a spice grinder, 2 sauté or frying pans, one of which is large and non-stick, and a baking tray.
First make the spice powder. Put the dried red chillis, coriander and cumin seeds and turmeric in the spice grinder, and grind until a fine powder forms. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over a medium-high heat in the sauté pan that isn’t non-stick. Add the spice powder and stir for 30 seconds to cook the spices. Watch closely so they do not burn. Add the onion paste and stir for a further 30 seconds. Lower the heat to medium, add the tomatoes and continue stirring to break down the large chunks.
Stir in the coconut milk, tamarind liquid and water. Slit the green chilli lengthways, then add it to the pan. Season with salt and bring the liquid to the boil, then lower the heat and leave to simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, while you cook the fish. You want the gravy to have a consistency like single cream.
Meanwhile, rinse a few coriander sprigs for the garnish and set aside. Pat the fish fillets dry and cut each fillet in half crossways. Use a thin knife to lightly score the skin side of each fillet. Season with salt on the flesh side.
Heat just enough vegetable oil to cover the surface of the non-stick pan over a medium-high heat. Add the fillets, skin side down, and fry for 3–4 minutes until the skin is browned and crisp. Gently flip the fillets over and continue frying until the flesh is opaque and cooked through. Take care not to over-cook the fillets.
Adjust the seasoning of the gravy with salt, if necessary. Divide the gravy among 4 deep soup plates or bowls and top each with 2 pieces of sea bass. Garnish with the coriander sprigs.
Atul’s time-saving tip
Lightly scoring the skin on the fillets helps them cook quicker and crisps the skin. This isn’t just because I have my eye on the clock with these recipes, but because gentle, quick cooking guarantees tender, delicious results.
Recipe taken from 30 Minute Curries by Atul Kochhar, (Absolute Press £26) out now.
Main photograph ©Mike Cooper