Update October 2010 – I no longer eat scallops or catfish for several reasons (mainly health and environmental) but this curried sauce is incredible with many other proteins, including wild caught halibut and tofu.
Last week I mentioned that I had started to cook from 660 Curries and how much I was loving the book. It is truly wonderful – complex and has all the spices, yet much more approachable than so many Indian cookbooks. One recipe, Poached Catfish in a Coconut-Coriander Sauce, is one of my ongoing favorites. It’s complex and spicy and slightly sour, and just all around amazing.
As you can see, I have poached scallops in this wonderful curried broth with great results, and have also poached catfish and sole, both with great results. Since making the recipe with catfish, I have decided to completely stop eating farmed fish – Whole Foods catfish was my last hold-out because supposedly it had a higher quality control standard. But then I decided to eschew farmed fish altogether. Fortunately, the recipe works well with wild sole.
I have typed the recipe just as it is in the book, but I encourage you to substitute various fish, scallops or even shrimp.
And finally, a warning – this sauce is downright addictive, but so worth it.
Poached Catfish in a Coconut-Coriander Sauce
From 660 Curries
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
11/2 pounds skinless catfish fillets, cut in half to form roughly 4-inch pieces
1/2 cup shredded fresh coconut, or 1/3 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut, reconstituted (to reconstitute, cover with 1/4 cup boiling water, set aside for about 15 minutes)
2 tablespoons long-grain or medium-grain white rice
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 to 4 dried red Thai or cayenne chilies, to taste, stems removed
5 pieces dried black kokum or 1/2 teaspoon tamarind concentrate (I bought the later at Whole Foods).
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup finely chopped red onion
2 or 3 fresh green Thai, cayenne, or serrano chiles, to taste, stems removed, thinly sliced crosswise (do not remove seeds)
Sprinkle the salt over both sides of the catfish fillets, arrange them in a single layer in a baking fish. Refrigerate, covered, for 15 to 30 minutes (skip if using shrimp or scallops).
Meanwhile, pour 1/2 cup water into a blender jar (food processor worked better for me) and add the coconut, rice, coriander seeds, peppercorns, turmeric and dried chiles. Puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed,to make a thick, gritty paste mottled with chilies.
Combine the kokum and the boiling water in a small bowl, and set it aside to steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Squeeze the fruit to extract all its tart, slightly bitter juices and discard the skin. Note that if you are using the concentrate, all you need to do is combine the 1/2 teaspoon of concentrate with boiling water.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and chiles, and stir-fry until the onion is light brown around the edges and the chiles smell pungent, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the coconut paste to the skillet and stir-fry until the spices and coconut form a thin yellow film on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour 1/2 cup water into the blender or food processor jar and swish around to wash it out. Add this to the skillet and scrape the bottom to deglaze it, releasing the browned bits of spice and coconut (note – I often end up using about another cup of water to fully deglaze the pan).
Submerge the fish fillet, in a single layer, in the sun-yellow sauce and cover the skillet. Poach, gently turning them over halfway into the poaching, until they are barely starting to flake, 12 to 15 minutes. (if poaching scallops or shrimp, 5 minutes is generally enough, but it seems to vary)
Gently lift the fillets out of the skillet and arrange them on a serving platter.
Pour the kokum/tamarind water into the sauce and stir once or twice. Pour the sauce over the fillets and serve. Note that you do not want to miss this step as it gives the dish a wonderful salty tang.
General Disclosures & Disclaimers