My whole family loves seafood and I’ve grown up on traditional Kerala and Malabari-style seafood. Masala fried fish, Alleppey red fish curry with tapioca, whole fish steamed in banana leaves, prawn curry with raw mangoes… I could go on and on!! Most Kerala fish curries are spicy, and use a fair amount of chillies and tamarind/raw mangoes for that zing.
One of my favourites, though, is the much milder fish moilee. It’s a coconut-milk based fish curry, and goes great with steamed rice or appams. It’s mild, simple, yet full of flavour; and pretty easy to make as well.
The other day, I was pretty disgusted when I saw Nigella Lawson massacre what seemed to be a fish moilee on her show. She called it a Keralan Fish Curry, adding the disclaimer that she had never been remotely near Kerala, and trust me, it shows! She marinated the fish in a heap of turmeric, and the recipe also had chillies, garlic, a TON of onions, and some tamarind paste thrown in as an afterthought. The concoction was a vague mash-up of many ingredients that normally would go into a Kerala-style fish curry, but one look at the gloopy orange mess and I wanted to CRYYYY.
Nigella is great with sugary syrupy desserts and has some great pasta and meat recipes. She should just stick to that. That, and her ability to eat on a couch wearing a satin robe with a towel on her head. (She looks like the lovechild of Carmen Miranda and Martha Stewart, with that damn towel on her head.)
As you may infer- I am not the biggest fan of Ms Lawson.
Anyway, last Sunday the whole family (mom+dad+me) decided to troop into the kitchen and cook. Mom made coconut green beans, dad made prawn masala and I decided to make REAL fish moilee. My dad and I went grocery shopping and picked up some Vietnamese bassa fish fillets, so I decided to use them. It’s a firm, light fish and picks up the flavours of the other ingredients easily. And the coconut milk came from a Dabur tetrapack. A lot of people I know use freeze-dried coconut milk powder, but I prefer the one that comes in a tetrapack/can. I have a weird mental block against the powdered variety- it doesn’t dissolve properly, it leaves lumps and a layer of scum on the top of the curry.
I recalled the recipe from memory, since I’ve watched my mom and grandmom cook it when I was a kid. I just follow my instinct and go along. But below is a step-by-step recipe from the Food Network’s website. It’s pretty much how my family makes it. And it’s so easy!!
4 pounds white-fleshed fish, like monkfish, halibut, or cod, filleted and cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 lime, juiced
- Peanut Oil, for frying
- 2 green chillies, seeded (I kept the seeds in though)
- 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 5 or 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (do not chop, crushing gives the curry better flavor)
- 1/2 medium white onion, thinly sliced
- 2 to 3 fresh curry leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon tumeric
- 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk, solids separated from the liquid
- 1 tomato, quartered, plus 1 tomato sliced thinly, for garnish
- Cooked rice, as an accompaniment
Rinse the diced fish chunks in water. Drain off the excess water and place the fish in a bowl. Add turmeric powder and a large pinch of salt. Add lime juice and mix. Cover and refrigerate for 25 minutes.
Heat the oil in a deep saucepan over a medium gas flame until seriously hot, but not burning.
Add the chillies, ginger, garlic, onion, and curry leaves to the oil. The curry leaves must be added in at the beginning, so the flavours can infuse with the other ingredients. Stir lightly until onions are transparent. Add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder, and stir. Add enough liquid coconut to cover the ingredients in the pan. Do not add the thick coconut milk yet, as it will curdle. Add the fish and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 6 to 7 minutes until cooked.
Add the quartered tomato and the thick coconut milk. Garnish with sliced tomatoes and serve with boiled or steamed white rice.
PS You don’t have to use peanut oil if you don’t want to; canola, coconut or vegetable oil is fine. And red onions work just as well 🙂