Thursday, January 15, 2015

Simple Goan Fish Curry: Exotic Spicy, Sweet and Sour 'Curry in a Hurry'

My apologies to the wonderful Diana Henry as my version of her Simple Goan Fish Curry is not the golden blondish-brown color in this picture accompanying the online recipe. I made the mistake of answering the phone while cooking and because I was cooking from my iPhone--at least that's where I pulled up the recipe--while talking to a client with a question, I was not doing a good job of reading the recipe. Hence the one tablespoon palm sugar, two teaspoons of tamarind paste ended up going in the pan as one teaspoon palm sugar, two TABLESPOONS of tamarind paste. Yikes--that's 3x more tamarind than called for! Just as I was lowering the second tablespoon into the coconut milk mixture, I thought 'Wow! That seems like a lot of tamarind...' and pulled back before the entire second spoonful went in. I'd say slightly more than double the amount called for still ended up in the pan and it showed in the absolutely unappealing dull brown color of the curry. It wasn't pretty. I probably should have taken a picture of it so you could truly see how ugly it was. Instead (as soon as I got off the phone), I went into recovery mode. 

Since I didn't have enough of some of the ingredients (or the inclination) to completely start over, I ladled out part of the ugly brown coconut milk and replaced with fresh. I also added a bit more of the cumin-coriander-turmeric mix. Better but still not great--about the color of dry hot chocolate mix. So as not to dilute flavor and spice too much, I added about 3/4-cup of canned diced tomatoes pureéd with a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste in the blender and I upped the palm sugar by another 1/2 tablespoon to compensate for the extra sourness of the tamarind. A much better color, and the flavor reminded me (positively) of the tamarind sauce on a fish dish I used to get from a local Malaysian restaurant. So, while not the dish that Diana and I had in mind, it was still an excellent curry and full of great flavor. Moral of the story--don't cook and answer complicated questions at the same time--at least not from the same smartphone! ;-)

Diana Henry says that this dish is "an aromatic fish curry that really is quick to make" and that any firm white  fish in season is suitable. I used a combination of local Mahi and Ono. I am printing the original recipe below with some small changes (reducing oil, adding green peas and topping with toasted coconut chips for texture) I made before the 'great tamarind incident'--noted in red below.  

Simple Goan Fish Curry
Adapted from Diana Henry via The Telegraph
(Serves 4)

4 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 dried red chilli peppers

a 2cm sq (3/4-inch) piece root ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp turmeric
2 Tbsp sunflower or rapeseed oil (I used 1 Tbsp used coconut oil)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large plum tomato, finely chopped
1 (400ml/14 oz) tin coconut milk
1 Tbsp palm sugar (or soft light-brown sugar)
2 tsp tamarind paste
1 green chilli, halved, deseeded and finely sliced 

(I added 1 cup frozen green peas)
500g (1lb 2oz) firm white fish fillets, skin removed, cut into 3cm (1 1/4-inch)
2 tbsp chopped coriander
(I added 2 Tbsp lightly toasted coconut pieces/chips)

Toast the coriander seeds, cumin and dried chilli peppers in a dry frying-pan for about a minute. Grind in a mini food processor or pestle and mortar, then mix in the ginger, garlic, turmeric and 1 tsp salt.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium heat, then add the onion and fry until soft and golden. Stir in the spice mix. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then add the tomato and cook until it has lost most of its moisture.

Add the coconut milk, sugar, tamarind and green chilli and bring to just under the boil. Immediately turn down the heat and simmer for about five minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Taste for seasoning. Season the fish with salt, then add it to the sauce and simmer gently for about four minutes until the fish is cooked through. Check again for seasoning. Add the coriander and serve. 

Notes/Results: For the initial tamarind error and with all I did to try to fix the color and reduce some of the tangy tamarind taste, I was a little surprised that I liked this curry so much. Certainly the tamarind flavor is pronounced but I like it and the tomato puree added to the creaminess of the curry which was nice. The peas were a fast way to add a bit of color and sneak a veggie in there, and the coconut chips gave a little crunch--some chopped cashews or peanuts would be nice too. The local fish I used was firm but moist and the basmati rice I served with it was great for soaking up the spicy-sweet-sour curry sauce. Although I may still go back and try the recipe as Diana intended it at some point, I ended up happy with my dish.  

This post is linking up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Along the Spice Trail--recipes that use exotic and aromatic spices. You can see what spice-filled dishes everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.



  1. Well, there is a candidate for my "east west fusion" theme! It sounds lovely even if the tamarind did get out of control...

  2. Aww well I'm pretty sure something similar has happened to all of us, but GREAT save!! I think the recipe sounds great!

  3. Your curry looks delicious! I like your touch on the added coconut flakes!
    Too much of a tamarind can be really sour indeed! Haha! Glad that you've managed to turn the curry with some changes, and in doing so, have discovered a new curry that you enjoy! :)

  4. I need to get some tamarind paste! It looks like you made a great save! I have a salad (on Friday's blog post) for Souper Sunday!

  5. I'm glad that you were able to save the dish - it does look wonderful. I particularly like your addition of the toasted coconut.

  6. I have never tried tamarind but it is definitely on my list of ingredients to source. Cute story about making this dish:) There is no way I can follow a new recipe and talk on the phone. I would've been in the same boat. This looks like a gorgeous dish. The coconut flakes on top are a nice touch:)

  7. Grace-Life can be simpleJanuary 20, 2015 at 7:31 PM

    I love how you managed to tweak the recipe in the end. It definitely works out for me too. Incidentally, we both cooked the same yummy dish. I love how tangy, spicy and homely this dish tastes :)


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