Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Goan Fish Curry


So, here’s the thing, I had an urge for a lobster based curry the other night: I think my previous venison blog post where I had mentioned Lidl’s lobster had stuck in my head and it was all I could think of. That of course was to be my undoing: naturally Lidl had none of the more exciting stock in. No Barbary duck breasts, no venison or guinea fowl, and certainly no damn lobster.

But having a seafood curry of one type or another was lodged in my little mind. My idea for the lobster curry was to be a Thai red so I decided I would keep that for when I can actually get my hands on some lobster. I’ve a recipe for a sour orange fish curry that I also really like and considered but then I remembered that I’d clipped a Goan fish curry recipe from Felicity Cloake’s “How to Cook the Perfect...” series on the Guardian website.

I love Felicity’s approach as it is much like mine, pulling the best bits from different recipes into one cohesive tinkered with version that suits your own tastes. It also means that when I’m a little too lazy or busy to take this approach myself the hard work has been done for me.

Perhaps the most famous of Goan dishes is vindaloo which, much like many of the region’s cuisine is heavily influenced by centuries of Portuguese colonialism. In fact, vindaloo started life as a Portuguese stew, "Carne de Vinha d' Alhos", pork, with wine and garlic. This was then modified by the substitution of vinegar for the wine and the addition of red Kashmiri chillies. That taste then for sour and spicy food is also characteristic of their seafood dishes and in particular coconut rich, hot and sour fish curries.

For the fish it’s best to use something quite robust so it doesn't flake apart in the pan. My intention had been for some monkfish but Tesco’s fish counter was to let me down here as Lidl had with the lobster. What I did see in the packaged fish section however was “Vietnamese river cobbler”, a quick google search of which was revealed to be Basa, a very firm fleshed with a great flavour. It also has the advantage of being super sustainable and cheap to boot.

A couple more points regarding the ingredients, the recipe does call for dried Kashmiri chillis, which are mild and yet have a lovely vivid red colour. I suspected that my dried chilis, while having a lovely colour were not Kashmiri as they are not particularly mild. To, hopefully, compensate I ripped the chillis up before toasting, shook out the seeds and discarded. Similarly, the original calls for white vinegar where I only had white wine vinegar. How much of a difference this made I’m not sure but certainly the next time I make this I would prefer a little more biting sourness and so will use either extra vinegar or perhaps tamarind. And make it again I will as it is really rather yummy.

Goan Fish Curry
Serves 2

For the masala:
½ tsp cloves
1 ½ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
4 dried red Kashmiri chillies
1 star anise
¼ tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp palm sugar
½ tsp salt
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1.5 cm root ginger, peeled and grated
2 ½ tsp white wine vinegar
For the curry:
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, grated
250ml coconut milk
2 fresh green chillies, slit lengthwise
265g firm white fish (eg pollock), cut into 2cm chunks
¼ tsp mustard seeds
6 curry leaves
Coriander, to garnish


To make the masala, toast the whole spices in a dry pan until aromatic. Grind to a powder using a spice grinder (or failing that a pestle & mortar or food processor) and then add the remaining ingredients, whizzing everything together to make a paste.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan over a medium high heat, then add the onion. Fry for a good 10 to 15 minutes until they are soft and lightly golden before stirring in the masala paste.

Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, until it is really fragrant and then stir in the tomato. Continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated which will be another 10 or so minutes.

Mix in the coconut milk and about 75ml water. Add the chillies and bring to the boil before turning the heat back down to low and simmering for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly. Add the fish and cook for about 5 more minutes until cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the tarka by heating the remaining in a frying pan on a high heat then adding the curry leaves and mustard seeds. Cook until they begin to pop, then stir into the curry.

Serve with rice and coriander scattered over.


  1. This is pretty much how my mom makes it in Mumbai... except that we use a sour fruit called 'Kokum' which tastes a bit like tamarind ... to me this is THE taste of home. Well done !

  2. Ah, thanks Madhur - your comment has made my day! I'd love to try and get hold of some kokum to try it out with that but I'm not sure where, if anywhere, stocks it in London...