Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Green Peas

Thank you, thank you for all the mazal tovs, warm wishes, and gifts off my Williams Sonoma wish list. For those who haven't heard, or perhaps "forgot" to send a gift *eye roll*...I'm pregnant! Well, at least I've been telling myself that over the past month to rationalize my insatiable cravings for coconut curry. This delusional state is nothing more than a giant bowl of cognitive-coping-mechanism ice cream with denial sprinkled on top. Though a growing belly may corroborate my story, my Amex bill is incriminating. I very seldom order takeout, so spending over 300 dollars last month on this Indian addiction is unfathomable.

Given my recent ob...esity..session, I've been motivated to make this dish at home. I sort of took the shotgun approach of buying any and every Indian/Thai/Asian sounding ingredient I could find (curry leaves, tamarind, lemongrass, chiles, coconut milk, coriander, fennel, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek, star anise, fish sauce, etc) and explored numerous flavor combinations. After weeks in the test kitchen, I am very excited to share this recipe.

A few take aways from the trial and error...
1) I'm out of control sometimes.
2) Tamarind and curry leaves are great additions to certain curry recipes, but not this one.
3) Eggplant, even if it's cute and "Asian," can ruin a dish. It doesn't work well with fish.
4) Many recipes use store bought curry paste, but that's not what I, Ina Garten, am about.

The final product was a a true success. The dish is luscious, seductive and so gratifying. I created a flavorful curry using freshly ground spices and good ingredients. The sauce acquires a welcoming heat from the chiles and cayenne, but is balanced by the sweetness of fresh peas and acidity from the lime juice. I also use fish sauce, a salty extract made from fermented anchovies, that cultivates the rich, umami flavor of the curry. The fish is rubbed in turmeric and then gently poached in the curry till it's cooked to perfection.

Though I'm partial to salmon, this curry is versatile and can transform any fish into a memorable meal. I've tried it with salmon and cod and both were delightful. I had my friend Brandon over for dinner last night and we enjoyed this wonderful dish served over basmati rice steamed with Indian spices. We paired the dish with a slightly sweet, fruity white wine that worked well against the heat of the curry.

One final thought before getting to the recipe. A lot of the food I share clearly fits within the parameters of a Mediterranean "heart healthy" diet. This dish, however, does not...It uses coconut oil and coconut milk, both somewhat controversial "health" foods because of their high calorie counts and significant levels of saturated fat. In general, the American Heart Association recommends limiting consumption of saturated fats as they can elevate cholesterol levels, which may increase the risk of developing heart disease.

So why does Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and most health food store promote coconut oil? Well, it's not entirely clear to me. The saturated fats from coconut oil are made of medium chain triglycerides, which are supposedly metabolized differently than other "bad" fats. I'm skeptical, but perhaps....A quick PubMed search led me to some small studies showing that coconut oil does raise cholesterol, including LDL (bad cholesterol). On the other hand, epidemiological studies did not find a clear association between coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular disease. Is there some magical properties in coconuts that transform the "bad" fats into "okay" or even "good" fat? Err...Don't think the evidence supports that, but better studies are needed. What is clear, though, is that coconut milk is ridiculously delicious. It warms my <3 with love and joy. Just be sure to enjoy it in moderation.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas:
  • **Fresh lemongrass is preferable for this recipe. Unfortunately, it was out of stock, so I substituted dry for fresh lemongrass.
    • For fresh lemongrass, use 1 or 2 stalks, tough outer layer removed. Combine the bottom 1/3 of each stalk with the other wet ingredients.
    • For dry lemongrass, use 1 tablespoon with the other dry ingredients.
  • For best results serve the curry over basmati rice, preferably steamed with Indian spices
    • Consider adding 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, and a couple of cardamom pods to the rice as it cooks. The rice will be aromatic and develop a subtle, but magnificent depth of flavor to compliment the curry. 
  • If your fish filet has thick and thin parts, considering cutting the fish into thicker cubes/slices and thinner ones. You can add the thinner pieces into the cooking liquid a few minutes after the thicker portions.  
  • The curry tastes even better the next day! Be sure not to dry out your fish.
    • Consider making the sauce a day ahead, but cook the fish when ready to eat!
    • Alternatively, keep the fish partly undercooked as it will continue to cook in the sauce well after being removed from the heat. 
  • Taste as you go. There is definitely variability depending on your ingredients, so trust yourself and adjust the flavors till it's perfect 

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas Ingredients:
Fish Ingredients:
  • 1.25 to 1.5 pounds salmon (or firm white fish), skin removed, cubed or sliced into 3 oz portions
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • Kosher salt, about 1 teaspoon for salmon or a scant teaspoon for white fish
Wild cod filet with turmeric and kosher salt. *Note, most the other photos are using salmon 

Wet Curry Paste Ingredients:
  • 5 medium  shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 3 Thai green chiles, stems removed and partially seeded (add more seeds for spicier curry)
  • 1 New Mexico dried chile, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes then stem removed
  • 1-2 stalks fresh lemongrass, tough outer layer removed, then use bottom 1/3 of each stalk**

Dry Curry Paste Ingredients:
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 4 black cardamom pods
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dry lemongrass** (Only if fresh is unavailable)

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas Other Ingredients: 
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 (13.5 oz) cans coconut milk, preferably a Thai/Asian brand
  • Kosher salt, 1 teaspoon + more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 cup fresh shelled green peas (or frozen if unavailable) 
  • Cilantro, rinsed and chopped for garnish

Coconut Curry Fish with Fresh Peas Recipe: 
In a large mixing bowl, rub the fish with turmeric and salt. Set aside in the fridge for at least 15 minutes or until ready to use.

Using a spice grinder, blend the dry ingredients together into powder. (Alternatively, crush the dry ingredients bar the kaffir lime and bay leaves with a mortar and pestle. Combine with the leaves, finely chopped). Set spice blend aside. 

Using a food processor, blend the wet ingredients together, adding 3 to 4 tablespoons of water as needed to form a paste. 

Heat 1.5 tablespoon of coconut oil in a heavy bottomed sauté pan or braiser. Add the wet mix and cook on medium high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and fish sauce. Cook until all the moisture evaporates and the paste takes on a golden/red color, about 2-3 minutes.

Add 1.5 tablespoons of coconut oil, 2 tablespoons of the dry spice blend, cayenne pepper, and turmeric. Cook over low heat until well mixed and aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, stirring till well combined, then add kosher salt and lime juice. Simmer till the sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Taste along the way, seasoning with more salt, black pepper (and cayenne if too mild) to taste.

Once ready to serve, bring the sauce to a gentle boil and add the green peas and salmon pieces. Cook uncovered, frequently basting the fish (if not already completely submerged in sauce), until the peas soften and the fish is at the desired doneness, about 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately over rice.


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