Padang fish curry

curried flounder with yams

In further pursuit of soft foods I can eat after my oral surgery last week, I’ve been going through cookbooks and looking for recipes that use white fish – I figure it’s one of the few animal proteins that doesn’t require much chewing. I’ve also been getting bored, so I thought a curry might be nice, as long as it didn’t have too many chunks in it. What I ended up with was the Padang fish curry, a sweet and slightly spicy coconut milk dish, from Cradle of Flavor. Thank goodness, it was actually like eating real food again!

Padang fish curry for two

adapted from Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland

flavoring paste:

  • 2 oz shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 2 unsalted macadamia nuts

for the curry:

  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 stalk lemongrass (ideally), tied into a knot
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 daun salam leaf (if you have it)
  • 10 oz coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • kosher salt
  • two serrano chiles, tops cut off
  • 2/3 lb white fish

I had hoped to make it with fish steaks – something like halibut – but the store had nothing but fillets. I got a piece of wild Alaskan flounder, which seemed like it would be tender and quick to cook. I was also unable to buy lemongrass (our grocery store usually has it, but not this time) – so I bought a lemon and used a couple strips of zest instead. We actually had daun salam on hand from our last big Indonesian goods shopping trip – it’s also called Indian bay. I don’t think you should substitute regular bay leaves, though.

shallot paste and lime leaves

Combine the ingredients for the flavoring paste in a food processor and puree, adding water if necessary. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or medium soup pot and add a bit of the paste. If the paste just sits there in the oil quietly, wait a bit longer. If it sizzles a lot, turn the heat down. When it just sizzles slightly, add the rest of the paste and saute until the shallots don’t smell raw any more.

Add the coconut milk, sugar and salt. Stir and bring to a simmer (do not boil). Let it simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes. You can add the chiles now if you want more of their flavor, otherwise wait.

Add the fish to the sauce (and the chiles, if you haven’t already) and continue to cook at a gentle simmer until the fish is just done. Turn off the heat and let it all sit for a while – the original recipe wants you to wait 20 minutes, but I admit I didn’t feel like it. It smelled good!

While the curry was cooking, I cut up a sweet potato and put it in a saucepan with a little water to steam until soft, then mashed it up with a wooden spoon and served it alongside the curry. It worked beautifully with the coconut sauce! We opened a bottle of Greek wine called Malagousia – it’s a crisp but floral white that really went nicely with the cool herb and spice flavors of the curry. It was my first glass of wine all week (I’m finally off the painkillers, hurray) and tasted wonderful.

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