My mom was born and raised in a small coastal town in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Soon after marriage she moved to Kerala, another coastal state in South India. Both regions are abundant in sea food and coconut trees. Street hawkers would bring the catch of the day to the door step. Their commute usually was under 10 minutes from the source of the catch! I don’t think you could find sea food any fresher unless, you live on the water. Although both regions have coconut and fish in plenty, their cuisines are distinctly different. In Andhra coconut is widely used in cooking anything from sweets to chutneys, but I have hardly seen it paired with sea food or meats. I don’t know why it evolved this way. But I am lucky that my mom adapted to cooking both cuisines, so that I did not have to miss one for the other.
Fish with coconut curry sauce is sort of a middle ground for these two cuisines, and is as delightful as it sounds. It is creamy and spicy. The fish acquires a succulent rich flavor from being stewed in the gravy. The sweetness of the coconut milk perfectly off-sets the spiciness resulting in an exquisite concoction that is simple enough for a weekday meal and elegant enough for entertaining guests. Make it and you will be an instant domestic goddess (or god)!!
What do you need (serves 6-8 generously):
Tilapia* – 2 lb
Coconut Milk- 1 can (regular or low fat)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
12 grape tomatoes quartered (or 1 medium tomato cubed)
2-3 green chilies slit length wise**
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp curry powder ***
2 tbsp oil (for pan frying fish and sautéing onions)
¼ tsp red chili powder (optional, if you want the gravy hot)
Salt to taste
Cilantro leaves for garnish
For marinating the fish:
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp red chili powder
½ tsp salt
* I used Tilapia fillets here and have also used Salmon cubes before, both with great success. Any white fish would work here—just pan fry the cubes so that they develop a fine brown crust which prevents them from breaking while stewing. If using Salmon, you need not pan fry the fish as it is hardy enough to be cooked in the gravy without disintegrating.
** 2-3 green chilies + ¼ tsp red chili powder in marinade + ¼ tsp optional red chili powder in gravy may sound too much, but it is not, as coconut milk nullifies most of that heat.
*** If you don’t have curry powder handy, you can use same amount of Garam Masala, which will have a different flavor, but still delicious.
How to make it:
- Cube the fish fillets and mix with the ingredients listed for marinating. Cover and keep in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
- Heat a shallow non-stick pan on medium with 1 tbsp oil. Spread the marinated fish pieces in the hot oil to get a nice golden sear. Turn the fish pieces to sear them both sides.
- Remove the fish from the pan and add remaining oil. Once hot add the slit chilies and sliced onions and fry until lightly brown.
- Add ginger and garlic paste and sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add the diced tomatoes and sauté for 5 minutes or until soft.
- Add the curry powder, salt and red chili powder (if using) and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Remember not to add too much salt—fish already has some on it.
- Now add the thick part of the coconut milk (top layer in the can, if unshaken) to the onion-tomato mix and cook until oil separates, about 5 minutes. After that add the remaining coconut milk and mix well.
- Add the pan fried fish cubes and gently stir to coat them with the gravy.
- Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed.
- Simmer on low heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring as little as possible. Gently shake/rotate the pan if you want to move the fish around.
- Remove from the flame and garnish with cilantro leaves.
- Serve with brown/white rice, or couscous.