The Essential Asian Cookbook

Fish with coconut (Sri Lankan style?)

SriLankanFishCoconutCurry

I haven’t posted for a while as I’ve not been very adventurous in the kitchen recently.

We’ve been enjoying our small herb garden, which has just come into its own after all the cold weather, and our simple meals are far too basic to talk about – pasta (with herbs), rice (with herbs), eggs (with herbs)…you get the idea. We also have allotment grown purple sprouting broccoli coming out of our ears which I like best stir-fried quickly just by itself.

This is all good (and quite healthy) but I decided earlier in the week to spice things up a bit and make a special trip to the fishmongers so that I could make this dish which seemed suitably fresh and summery.  Its unusual, dry texture takes a bit of getting used to but the combination of heat from the spices and sweetness from the coconut, enlivened at the end by lime and coriander, is very moreish (as my father would say).

The original recipe came from my ‘Essential Asian’ Cookbook. I have been unable to find any similar recipes anywhere. Perhaps this is because it’s not authentically Sri Lankan (I am always suspicious about books that claim to encapsulate the food of an entire continent) or maybe it’s just not well known enough to have made it to the top of a google search. I would be interested to hear from any Sri Lankans regarding this matter.

Anyway, if you like fish, coconut, fresh flavours, and you don’t require a sauce I would encourage you to give this a try.

Sri Lankan fish with coconut

Serves 2-4

  • 50g of desiccated coconut
  • 50g of flaked coconut (although I’ve used all desiccated when I didn’t have this and that worked just fine)
  • 500g of firm white fish (cod is what I generally use)
  • ½ a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of lime juice, plus extra for serving (to taste)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
  • 1-2 dried chillies (depending on how hot you like it)
  • 2 tablespoons of oil (I use groundnut)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 medium onions, very finely sliced
  • Salt to taste
  • Coriander (to garnish)

Preheat the oven to 150oC.

Spread the desiccated and flaked coconut on an oven tray and toast for 10 minutes until dark and golden, shaking the tray occasionally to mix.

Place the fish, pepper, turmeric and lime juice in a frying pan, half cover with water and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes with a lid on until the fish flakes when pulled gently with a fork. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of your fish fillets. Remove the fish from the pan and leave to cool a little before flaking into pieces.

I don’t like to waste the fish cooking liquor and therefore use it to cook the rice that goes with this dish, topping up with water to make the full amount of liquid required (see rice recipe here).

Dry roast the star anise, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds and chilli in a frying pan over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Then grind to a fine powder in a food processor (easy) or pestle and mortar (hard but satisfying). This spice powder smells amazing.

Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok and add the garlic, onion and spice powder. Then stir fry over a medium heat for 10 minutes until the onion is soft and fragrant.

Add the flaked fish and toasted coconut to the pan and toss with the onion until heated through.

Season with salt and lime juice to taste and garnish with chopped coriander. This is not a dish that needs to be served piping hot, I actually prefer it warm or at room temperature.

Serve over rice, with a cucumber and tomato salad (or some similar sort of fresh salad). It’s even nice with just salad or wrapped up in a flat bread. I also like to have a dollop of yoghurt on the side.