Perfect for Late Winter: Summer Fish Curry
When the weather turns, as it has this week, from merely cold to utterly brutal, I retreat, as much as possible, to the kitchen. The numbing weather presents cooks with a fork in the road: either make rib-sticking, hearty comfort food (nothing wrong with that, except what it will do to you come spring) or try to find something bright, flavorful and warm to raise your spirits and bring back your circulation. I’ve gone down both paths in the past week (hello, homemade macaroni and cheese?), but now I find myself leaning toward the latter.
This recipe, adapted from a book that I’m slightly embarrassed to say is one of my favorites, is foolproof, impossibly fast, and beautiful, if simple, in appearance. The book, Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer, is in fact geared towards hot-weather menus, and most of the recipes don’t suit February appetites. But I find that curries, this one included, work well for winter. The simple broth, smoothed with coconut milk, perfectly melds hot, sour and sweet, and seems to appeal to both fish-and spice-o-phobes. The recipe does call for two exotic ingredients, Thai fish sauce and tamarind paste, which are available at Guido’s in Pittsfield and Great Barrington. In a pinch, you could substitute fresh lime juice and soy sauce. —Paige Orloff
Summer Fish Curry (adapted from Forever Summer, Hyperion 2003)
Nigella suggests serving this with a lemon-and-mint flavored basmati rice, but if you are pressed for time and don’t want to bother, plain basmati rice will be good, too. Although this curry draws as much on Thai influences as Indian ones, you could certainly serve it with some jarred chutney and some yogurt to stand in for raita. For pure vegetarians, you could simply substitute tofu for the fish, with excellent results. In that case, you may want to brown the tofu first in the oil, remove it to the side, and then add the onions. Add the tofu back into the recipe as you would the fish.
1 lb. firm white fish, such as halibut or cod
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into bite size pieces
1 or 2 long red chiles (amount depends on your tolerance for this spice), halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 1/2 inch long piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 - 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
Cut the fish into bite sized chunks, sprinkle with a bit of salt and 1 teaspoon turmeric, and set aside.
Put a kettle of water on to boil.
Heat the oil in a large, fairly deep skillet or dutch oven. Add the onions, and sauté over medium heat until they begin to turn golden.
Add the caulliflower, the rest of the turmeric, the cumin, garlic, ginger and half of the sliced chiles and continue to cook, uncovered, until the spices begin to stick to the bottom of the pan (but don’t let them burn). Add 1/4 cup of water and deglaze the bottom of the pan by stirring and scraping. Then cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower begins to soften (about five minutes).
Pour the coconut milk into a large glass measuring cup and add the tamarind concentrate and the fish sauce. Add hot water from the kettle to make a total of four cups of liquid, and then pour all the liquid into the skillet, stirring gently. Taste and add more tamarind if you prefer a stronger sour flavor. Bring to a simmer over low-to-medium heat, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. You can make the curry ahead to this point and hold it (either briefly on the stove, or longer in the refrigerator).
When you’re nearly ready to serve, add the fish, and cook until just cooked through, and still tender.
Sprinkle with scallions and remaining chiles before serving.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Heat the oil in a small sauce pan over medium heat; add the rice and turmeric. Sauté until the rice looks more opaque than translucent—about three minutes. Add the lemon juice and zest, water, salt, and half of the chopped mint.
Bring to a boil, then cover tightly and simmer over very low heat until all the liquid is absorbed—about 20 - 25 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and add the rest of the mint (and more salt to taste) just before serving.