Southern Angola, early nineties...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Curry Fish in Coconut Milk

Any time that we were near the coast, we could supplement our meagre diet with fresh fish. Getting hold of a few bags of charcoal and rigging up a quick barbecue was the easiest, and in no way unpleasant, way to prepare the cleaned and gutted fish. We could buy butter in tins, marketed by a company called Breda if memory serves me correctly, and the liberal application of this over the sizzling fish was a delight. Even better if we could find fresh Salsa (parsley), a bit of that chopped up and sprinkled over the fish along with a squirt of lemon juice turned it into something quite memorable.

But even starving, we quickly tired of just plain old grilled fish. With no sauce it, in combination with our staple boiled rice, was a bit dry so, once again, a bit of artistry was required.

For this dish you will need:

Any kind of cleaned fish. Seriously, any type will do so long as it is fresh and not the oily kind. It can be whole or portioned. A good, chunky sort of fish cut up into steaks works exceptionally well
2 onions finely chopped
2 sweet peppers (one red, one green, just for visual effect) sliced long and thin
Fresh coriander leaves roughly chopped
Fresh ginger finely sliced
Succulent leaves with stalks, such as Chinese leaf, spinach, anything like that, very roughly chopped, try and leave the stalks long
Two juicy red tomatoes roughly chopped
Fresh chillies chopped small
A fat, crispy carrot sliced as long and fine as you can
Powdered Coriander seeds
Coconut cream (or coconut milk)
Olive oil

Heat the heavy pan up over the beach barbeque with a few tablespoons of olive oil in it. As soon as it is hot, tip in the chopped onions, ginger and chillies and sweat them off.

Add a teaspoon of powdered coriander, a teaspoon of turmeric and half a teaspoon of cumin. The pan will tend to go dry so keep stirring to prevent the mixture burning.

Add the tomatoes, finely sliced carrots and sweet peppers and stir them around to incorporate the flavours. You may need to add an egg cupful of water at this stage just to stop the spices toasting too much until the juice from the tomatoes and peppers takes over.

Once the vegetables are getting soft, pour in the coconut milk and stir gently to incorporate all the ingredients and flavours. The heat now should be gentle, as we do not want to boil the coconut milk. Check the seasoning, adding salt as required.

Lay the fish into the sauce and sprinkle with freshly chopped coriander leaves. Cover the fish and the whole contents of the pan with the succulent leaves (Chinese leaf, spinach, whatever you could find) and then cover the pan and allow the fish to poach gently in the mixture.

Remember that the cooking time of the fish will depend on its size and the manner in which it has been prepared. If it is a whole fish, and large, it will require more time than cut steaks. The latter should require no more than ten minutes.

As soon as the leaves have softened and the succulent stalks are hot but still a little crunchy, lift the steamed leaves out onto the serving platter, gently lift the fish out and place on the bed of leaves and then pour the sauce over the top. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

This is another visual and olfactory treat usually served with rice to soak up the sauce.


SingingBear said...

The ingredients for this dish are very similar to what's needed for Caldeirada de Peixe, which was one of our family's favorites...still is. Or is that dish ubiquitous in Luanda these days?

Hippo said...

Caldeirada de Peixe is similar but does not use coconut milk, certainly not around Luanda anyway. Caldeiradas are still on the menu here and I love it when my wife gives me a bowl as soon as I arrive home after being away.

Suzanne said...

Thanks for the lovely stories and recipes! I rotate between London and Luanda and always try to cook something Angolan when I am back in London. Your recipes are great! Can't live without gindungo...