Anthony’s Fish Moilee

Anthony is tall and lean; he has dark-rimmed spectacles which almost hide his warm, twinkling eyes, and a neat, greying moustache. He looks like a professor out of a children’s story book. But Anthony is a cook. He comes from Kerala, the lush, tropical and predominantly Christian state in the southwest of India, where he cooks for English friends of mine in the old coastal city of Cochin.

Fish is plentiful and varied in Kerala. Anthony used seer fish for this recipe, an excellent meaty fish with fine, pure white flesh. Swordfish or monkfish make good alternatives. This lovely, creamy dish is popular all over Kerala; tomatoes are often added, but not in Anthony’s version. His sauce is also slightly thickened, which I like very much. Serve with basmati rice and a green vegetable or salad. Curry leaves are always used in Kerala but are not essential. However, they are available in Britain in Asian grocery shops and some supermarkets, fresh or dried.

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Ingredients

  • 4 rounded tablespoons coconut milk powder
  • 600 ml/1 pint hot water
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 2-3 small fresh green chillies
  • generous 5 cm/2 in piece fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 rounded teaspoon plain flour
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 675-800 g/1½-1¾ lb thick swordfish or monkfish steaks
  • 10-12 curry leaves
  • generous handful fresh coriander leaves
  • salt

Method

Put the coconut milk powder into a bowl, add the hot water and 2 teaspoons of salt, stir until smooth and leave on one side. Peel the onion, cut it in half and then crossways into thin slices. Peel the garlic and chop finely. Under running water, cut a slit down the length of the chillies with a small sharp knife and extract all the seeds with your fingers. Drain the chillies but leave them whole. Peel the ginger, cut it in quarters lengthways and then slice into very thin strips.

Put the oil into a fairly large casserole over a medium heat, add the onion, the whole chillies and the ginger and stir around until the onion has just softened. Then add the turmeric and garlic and stir around for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour, followed by the lime juice. Then gradually stir in the reserved coconut milk. Return to the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Bubble, still stirring, for 2-3 minutes as the sauce thickens. Then add the fish steaks and curry leaves, cover the casserole and simmer very gently for about 15 minutes, until the fish has lightly cooked through. Meanwhile, roughly chop the coriander leaves. Stir them into the casserole just before serving.

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