Sri Lankan Fish “Stew”
On bleak and chilly days, before the Spring, and before the Spring-runs of salmon – which is generally when we’re craving it most – we buy a frozen salmon fillet and this is one of our favorite ways to prepare it. (The salmon remains tender, succulent, moist – if you hadn’t bought it yourself, you wouldn’t know it was frozen.) This dish is savory, sour-sweet (thanks to the tamarind), warmly and mildly spicy, and coconut-milk-creamy…and, as a bonus, it’s an incredibly healthy meal.
A note on the SPICES: (I like to use whole seeds when I can, and dry-roasting them brings out their “sweetness” and adds another dimension of flavor to a dish. Besides that, spices you buy already-ground have started to lose some of their potency by the time they make it to your spice cupboard. But if you don’t want to make the purchase and you already have the ground spices on hand, by all means, simply cut in half the quantity of seeds specified below as your guide.)
Sri Lankan Fish Stew
(this should serve at least 4)
- 2 Tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seed
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- scant 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 3 Italian plum tomatoes chopped (+ 1 more for garnish, or cherry tomatoes, chopped)
- 1 can unsweetened coconut milk (13½ ounce or 420 ml)
- 1 Tablespoon tamarind paste, dissolved in 3 Tbl. warm water
- 1¾ teaspoon teaspoon sugar
- salt (to taste)
- 2 pounds (1 kg) salmon (halibut, or sea bass fillets)
- small bunch cilantro leaves, torn – as garnish
- Cooked rice, to ladle the stew over. (Basmati is wonderful with this.)
Drop the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds, along with the peppercorns, into a small skillet, using no oil. Place over medium heat and toast the seeds & peppercorns until seeds have begun to release their aroma and have turned a toasty brown, stirring or shaking the pan often. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow to cool for just a minute then grind finely with mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder.
Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise – squeeze and shake over sink to release most of their seeds. Then chop.
In a large skillet with high sides or a Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the coconut oil. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic and sauté until the onions are tender and nearly translucent (about 4 or 5 minutes.) Add all the spices and cook for about 30 seconds longer, stirring continually, coating the onion and garlic with the spices. Add the tomatoes and sauté until they’ve started to release their liquids (about 1 minute.) Stir in the coconut milk, the dissolved tamarind paste, sugar and ¾ teaspoon salt.
Lower the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer, and cook partially covered for about 25 minutes.
Put rice on to cook.
Cut the fish into serving size portions and add atop the sauce in the pot. Spoon a bit of sauce over each, then cook at a gentle simmer until fish is tender but still moist – probably no more than 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish.
Serve in wide bowls, over rice, garnished with chopped fresh tomatoes and torn cilantro leaves.
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for a printed version of this recipe, click here.
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