Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Indian Wednesday #6: Favorite fish

Monica's Tomato and Coconut Fish Curry
Steamed Basmati Rice

According to Modern Spice, this is Monica Bhide's signature dish. The book recounts an anecdote in which her father tells her it is his favorite dish too, going on to explain how he makes it in his own way, leaving out or substituting the majority of ingredients for some reason. I must confess, that like Monica's father, I too left out one ingredient and substituted another: I didn't have any black mustard seeds and I couldn't find catfish here in France so I used fillet of whiting instead. But apart from that, I followed the instructions in the recipe to the letter from the measurements to the timings. The result? This is now my favorite dish too.

Before you get too excited, I must confess that I noticed a few weeks ago that I have a problem with favorites. Since I moved to France, I am also working my way through the wonderful world of French cheese (I should start a blog) and realized that every time I try a new cheese that I like, it becomes my favorite—until I try a new one. Last week, the Coriander-and-fennel crusted lamb chops from Modern Spice were my favorite and these have now been supplanted by the Tomato and coconut fish curry. What will it be next week? I guess what I am saying is take my superlative with a pinch of cumin seeds but as a sign that this dish, like the rest of the recipes I have tried from Modern Spice so far, is truly very, very good. No, not good: exceptional. 

Cooking my way through Modern Spice was always supposed to be an education in Indian cuisine as much as an enjoyable culinary journey, and indeed, I have learned something new every week. One of things this dish taught me most about is the taste of turmeric. Until now, I had thought that it was really a colorant, a cheaper version of saffron, turning every thing it touches bright yellow whether you want it to or not. However, in this dish, the turmeric not only lends an exquisite end-of-the-day color as you can see from the pictures, but also combined with the coconut milk, a sort of egg-custard like flavor that pairs exceptionally with the fish. It is that, combined with the heat of bi-color chiles and intensely aromatic curry leaves that makes this dish exceptional.

On the subject of curry leaves, I have discovered that it is they that give all the Indian food stores that I have ever been in the same distinctive smell. It's a smell I was very familiar with in my youth, living as a student in Rusholme, Manchester, one of the largest Indian quarters in the UK. It's a smell I immediately recognized as I entered the first grocery store on the Rue de la Faubourg St. Denis here in Paris, an equally large and exciting Indian quarter. And it's a smell that I recognized when I opened the plastic bag of fresh curry leaves I brought home a couple of weeks ago, finally discovering this extraordinary plant. 

1 comment:

  1. Love the presentation.. simple and perfect !