Nyonya fish curry, and why I love Poh

Last week I went to a class at the Sydney Fish Markets put on for the media by SunRice. Our teacher for the morning was the delightful Poh Ling Yeow, the company’s ‘brand ambassador’ among other, greater claims to fame. Let me say up front, I love Poh. After years of writing Kitchen Spy for the Sydney Morning Herald, interviewing celebrity chefs and lesser mortals, Poh remains a favourite. She’s smart, talented, funny, self effacing and, most endearingly, real. She’s the full package.


So we all piled into the demo kitchen where Poh conjured a particularly fragrant Hainan Chicken Rice then moved into the real kitchen, formed teams of four and made Fish Pineapple Curry. I know there’ll be readers shuddering at the pineapple idea but don’t. We’re not talking canned Golden Circle in syrup. We are talking fresh, firm and tangy, the perfect foil for the rich coconut cream base.

Poh credits a Malaysian aunty with this recipe which is an absolute cracker. It’s everything I love about Nyonya cooking. Hot, sour, salty, sweet yes but it’s also complex, gutsy and smells better than Chanel No 5.

Fish Pineapple Curry

Ingredients

fish:
800g blue-eye trevalla fillets
500g fresh pineapple, cut into 6mm triangles
700ml water
2 pieces dried ‘tamarind’ [see my notes below]
5 kaffir lime leaves
350ml coconut milk
3 tsp salt
3 Tbsp caster sugar
lime juice to taste

rice:
2 cups jasmine rice
2 pandan leaves, torn into strips an knotted together
1 cup water
2 cups coconut milk
1/2 tsp salt

spice paste:
15-20 dried long red chilies, deseeded, soaked in boiling water til soft, drained and chopped
2.5 tsp roasted belacan
3cm fresh galangal, peeled, sliced finely
4 stalks lemongrass [white part only] finely sliced
300g red eschallots, peeled and quartered
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved
5 candlenuts or macadamias
100ml canola or peanut oil

To serve:
1 continental cucumber, diced
lime wedges

Method

To make the curry, blitz all spice paste ingredients except the oil in a blender until smooth. Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan or wok over medium heat and cook paste for until it’s caramelised and fragrant. This could take more than 10 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when it stops smelling raw, thickens, deepens in colour and the oil floats on top.

Add the pineapple, water, tamarind slices, kaffir lime leaves and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to simmer for another 10 minutes. Add coconut milk, salt and sugar and return to the boil, then add fish at the very end to cook for 5-10 mins until cooked through. Taste just before serving. More salt, sugar or lime may be required to balance the flavours.

To make the rice, combine it with the pandan leaf, water and coconut milk in a medium non-stick or well seasoned saucepan. Bring to the boil then cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for another 10 mins, then remove from heat and allow to rest another 15 mins before fluffing up with a fork.

My notes:

You can find pandan leaves fresh or in the freezer in most Asian grocers. The fresh are better. The dried ‘tamarind’ slices are not related to tamarind, by the way. They’re the dried fruit of the gelugor tree, and may be labelled ‘asam gelugor’ which means sour slices. If you can’t get them use tamarind!

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