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When DEB comes to visit me, we always have either fish or vegetarian food, because there is no shop in Swindon that sells kosher meat. Last time she was down, we decided to make a day out of shopping for, creating and cooking a meal together, which turned out to be great fun! We went down to the fishmonger's early in the morning and got some beautiful haddock fillets, then further down to the part of town I like to think of as "the east end", which it isn't: but it's rich in ethnic delis, with every nationality from Pakistan to Brazil via Turkey, Poland and Jamaica amply represented. The quality of the fresh fruit and veg is far superior to anything that can be got in a supermarket, and the prices are just laughable (I got a huge ginger root, a big fan the size of my face, for 75p. You read that right, 75p.).

Anyway, we were idly traipsing along the road, picking up bits of veg and wondering what the hell some of the more exotic stuff even was, but at the same time trying to come up with inspiration as to what to do with our haddock. We were standing in the big Pakistani Cash & Carry - a fantastic establishment that caters to trade as well as retail and so carries 10 litre cans of oil, 1kg jars of curry paste, gigantic, 3-foot long frozen fish we couldn't recognise, and bags of rice and lentils that weigh more than we do - and being frankly a little overwhelmed by the variety of spices and fresh ingredients, when DEB got a speculative look on her face and said "how about some kind of curry?".

Well, I ask you. How out of it would you need to be to stand in the middle of a curry ingredient emporium, and not think of that? DEB proceeded to be even more efficient by confidently striding up to one of the giant curry paste jars and checking out the list of ingredients, which we then bought. And that, to be honest, was the sum total of our preparation for the joys of Sub-Continental Cuisine; to quote DEB yet again, it was "genuinely experimental cooking". We kept tasting things as we went along and carefully adjusting all the time, just in case, but were both so utterly pleased with the results we decided to enshrine it in recipe-dom on the spot. Which is what I'm doing.

Anyway, to business. Quantity-wise, this made enough for 3 very hungry people who stuffed themselves with the fish and left most of the rice, so really the list below should be enough for four. Like most curry dishes this has a very long list of ingredients, but the preparation is actually quite easy. I would say that the whole thing is incredibly tolerant; the only step you really need to look out for is adding the haddock - overcook fish and you've scotched it.

Take:

  • 2 haddock fillets - about 1.5lbs or 750gr
  • As many fresh chillies as you like, we used 2 small "mild" ones that weren't
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1.5tsp coarse salt
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1tsp, heaped, ground turmeric
  • 100gr, or about 7cm, fresh ginger
  • 3tbsp chopped coriander
  • 1tbsp tomato purée
  • 1.5tsp sugar
  • 1 small can (230ml) peeled chopped tomatoes
  • Freshly milled pepper
  • 3tbsp vegetable oil, preferably one with little flavour like groundnut
  • 400ml coconut milk (we used a "lite" version, which was delicious)

  1. Start by toasting the spices. Heat a pan until it's very hot and place the cumin, mustard seed and fenugreek in it; then let them toast, shaking slightly every so often, for about 7 minutes or until you can smell the aromas of the spices and the mustard seeds begin to jump like popcorn. Transfer to a mortar or a spice mill and grind to a fine powder. Remove onto a saucer and set aside.

  2. Place the garlic cloves and salt in a mortar and pound until you get a smooth-ish white paste. Slice the onions into half moons, finely chop the coriander, de-seed and dice the chillies, and grate the ginger on a fine grater (just in case you didn't know this - peel it first!). Set everything aside, keeping the onions separate as they go in first.

  3. Heat the oil in a large cooking pot or deep frying pan, then fry off the onions on a medium-high heat until they are glassy - about 5 minutes. Stir in the ground spices (not forgetting the turmeric), then the garlic and salt paste. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes.

  4. Now add the ginger, coriander and chilli, then stir in the tomato paste and sugar. Add the chopped canned tomatoes, mix well and bring back to a simmer. Finally, add a little black pepper to lift the fragrance in the dish and pour in the coconut milk. Stir well and bring back to a simmer, then reduce the heat, cover and cook gently for about 30 minutes.

  5. Prepare the fish: wash each fillet in some cold running water, then skin it, de-bone it if necessary, and cut into chunks approximately 1 inch square. At the end of the 30 minute cooking time (can be a bit more, can be a touch less, it's pretty flexible), carefully slide in the fish pieces into the sauce and cook, uncovered, for not more than 10 minutes. As previously mentioned, it is vitally important not to overcook the fish. Don't stir at this stage, as this can break the fish apart and turn it into mush.

That's it - I'll leave describing the rice cooking process to DEB, as she's the one who did it. We served it very simply with boiled rice and Indian lager; you may choose to add naan, pickles or some side dishes such as dhal, sag paneer or Bombay aloo, which will really make a feast out of this easy to make but exceptionally tasty and sophisticated dish. Enjoy!

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