I rashly said I’d join in on Sharyn’s challenge to cook something for her friend Lauren and at the same time celebrate her 1st anniversary blogging at the Kale Chronicles. Rash because of time restrictions and because I’ve never really joined in anything like this before. It’s also a competition and frankly the only person I am competitive with is myself. So what on earth was I doing? What suddenly changed my normal reticence for joining in, well there are prizes but most of all it’s about Sharyn’s blog. I wanted to join in the celebration.
As the reality of a rash statement settled in, I needed to think about cooking for someone who has a restricted diet, how you adapt what you have for a limited diet. You want to cook a great meal, but with no compromises to taste and freshness. I asked myself what would I cook, it started with think local and allotment and so a meal of fresh greens from the allotment with locally caught Mackerel was born.
Mackerel is a beautiful fish to look at, the shiny skin, distinct stripes with hints and hues of colour. It’s also very local – at certain times of year you can see the shoals from the beach. Mackerel can only be caught when the sea is calm, they don’t come in when the its rough and churned up. They follow the Whiting into the shallower warmer water forming shoals jumping and shimmering in the sea, a frenzy of activity. Local people fish from the beach or take small boats out – their hauls destined for their freezers, if you have friends who fish they are precious friends indeed – happy to share their catch. If not you can turn to the small beach launched fishing fleet. The boats are tiny by modern standards, they only catch what is local, they can’t go far. This is sustainable fishing at it’s best.
The weekend I cooked this meal I read about over fishing by various countries, complaints of reduced fish stocks – the same old arguments and issues. Fishing as an industry is a depressing read. I find the word industry jarring when applied to fishing, or farming. It dull’s me. But I realise how lucky I am to have options and to have such local options. If Lauren can’t get fresh or sustainably caught mackerel then I’d suggest a good oily fish as a replacement. It’s amazing how oily fish can take on big flavours.
The original inspiration for this curry is from Anjum Anand. The curry hails from Chennai, east coast India where the sea influences the meals. Oily fish are abundant and the flavours used in this curry are of South India – of mustard seeds, curry leaves and coconut.
The recipe calls for tomatoes but they are on the ‘No List of foods’ so I made this curry without tomatoes, I would also normally make this with fresh chillies for heat and tang, but they are off the menu too. No problem I say, let’s try this without chilli (who needs their heads blasted off anyway) and I wanted to see how it worked without using tomatoes as a base for a curry sauce.
The result? Well it worked and it worked well. In fact it tasted delicious without the tomatoes and I didn’t miss the heat from the chillies. Having made it without tomatoes and chillies I would adapt the recipe a bit more by adding 1/2 a teaspoon each of powdered cumin and coriander to boost the flavour and a touch more turmeric and if I have it, fresh coriander chopped and sprinkled on top just before it’s served. Fresh coriander always lifts dishes. So I have adapted the recipe further.
When I have made this before I used whatever tomatoes and chillies I have to hand, chopped up and added to the sauce and cooked down before adding the fish. You can choose which way to make it.
I’ve found this curry to be even better the next day. Left to sit the flavours intensify and become somehow more rounded.
Sharyn also requested that we cook with organic food, well my food is all grown on the allotment at this time of year, and I don’t use chemicals. The chard and garlic all come from the allotment, and I do have some turmeric and ginger growing in pots in the garden but they aren’t ready for picking yet, I was happy to oblige with her request..
And would I do something like this again? The challenge not the curry! Unlikely, I find its all too rushed and I’m not a great fan of “challenges”, I like to ebb and flow see where life takes me, explore and stop and look at what is around me, reach my destination in my own time, operate with less structure; there is enough structure and plenty of challenges at the moment in my life without adding to them! The fun bit was imagining cooking for two people I’ve never met before and picturing us taking a walk down to the beach in the morning to shop for fish, to see what’s fresh and then walking back via the allotment and picking the veggies for the meal. I can obviously do imagination !
Mackerel Coconut Curry
- 1 tbs of vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 tsp of brown mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- 12 curry leaves
- 1 onion, peeled, and chopped into small pieced
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 to 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 whole mackerel, gutted and cleaned. And cut into chunks or “steaks” roughly an inch thick
- 1/2 tsp of tamarind paste
- Coconut milk – I use the blocks of coconut so slice off a 2 inch piece and add it to the curry. Alternatively use approx 1/2 can of coconut milk
- Salt and pepper
- A few fresh coriander leaves
- Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and when hot add the seeds (mustard, cumin, coriander and fenugreek) and the curry leaves, let them sizzle in the oil for 30 seconds.
- Turn down the heat and then add the chopped onions and gently fry until they are cooked – translucent but not browned
- Now add the ginger, garlic and stir it in.
- Stir in the powdered spices – cumin, coriander and turmeric and cook for a minute.
- Next add the coconut milk. If like me you use a piece from a block of coconut, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of water at the same time, stir it in well, and bring back to a simmering point
- When the coconut is well dissolved and mixed in, add the mackerel to the pan, and stir gently.
- Bring the contents of the pan back to a simmering point and add the tamarind paste, stir this into the sauce.
- The fish shouldn’t take long to cook, maybe 5 minutes in total. I take a piece and check it to see the colour of the flesh.
- You may need to add more water if the sauce is gets too thick, add a bit at a time.
- I also add a pinch of salt towards the end, I ‘ll leave that decision to your taste buds.
- Sprinkle some chopped coriander leaves on top and serve.
Served with a simple pilau rice and fresh greens of chard – but more of that another day.