What’s the first thing that pops in your head when you think ‘fish fillets’? Fish and chips? Definitely fried stuff… what else? Poached, baked, bland? You know you heard you should be eating more fish. Like, twice a week. How about we make some Penang Fish Curry and blast away the bland?
Penang curry is named after an island in Malaysia, with many, many variations of the recipe out there. The internets told me that it originated in Malaysia, but also in Thailand…through Laos. I have no idea anymore. In the end, it doesn’t matter. My adaptation is a combination of shallots, red chillies, ginger and turmeric. Most importantly, the curry calls for roasted peanuts that are used to enrich and thicken the sauce, and add a nutty taste. I used a crunchy unsalted peanut butter in this case, but substitute as fit. I’ve also seen versions that include tomato paste – I’d be tempted to try adding a couple of tablespoons next time.
Now a couple of ingredients that may be unfamiliar to Western palates. Tamarind – it acts as a souring agent, and is a distinctive flavor in the curry. I’d recommend getting a ready-made jar, of course you can also soak and prepare your own beans, but I wasn’t a tamarind purist this time around.
Shrimp paste has a pungent aroma and is made from… yea, fermented ground shrimp mixed with salt. Tell that to my mom and she might faint. Some versions are in its wet form (like in the picture), others get sun dried and cut into blocks – those are extremely pungent – fit for a very adventurous palate. You can find the tamarind and shrimp pastes in any well stocked Asian market.
I have only ever been able to find cilantro roots once, and I’m pretty sure it was an error on my grocer’s part. A few days later, they started chopping them off again! Ugh. If they only knew how much flavor is concentrated in those roots. Luckily, chopped cilantro stems make a good substitute.
- Curry Paste
- 3 large fresh red Thai chilies
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
- 8 shallots, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 inch piece of peeled galangal, chopped, or substitute ginger
- 2 tbs chopped cilantro (coriander) root, or substitute 2 tbs cilantro stems
- 4 tbs crunchy peanut butter
- ½ tsp chili powder (just regular plain chili powder)
- ½ tsp salt, or to taste
- The Dish
- 500 ml water
- 2 tbs tamarind paste
- ½ tsp sugar
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 700 g red snapper fillets, or other thick white fish, cut into 1 inch slices
- fresh cilantro and mint, to garnish
- Place the curry ingredients in a blender, or food processor, and blend until the mixture is mushy. Remove and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan, and add the curry mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture begins to brown. A rubber spatula works great for working with the mixture. The process will take about 10 minutes.
- Pour in the water and add salt, tamarind paste, sugar and turmeric (if added earlier, the turmeric would lose it's brilliant yellow color). Stir and mix well.
- Add the fish and stir gently to ensure it's covered with the sauce. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and serve with jasmine rice. Garnish with cilantro and mint.