Hot balmy nights, evening white wines in a shady garden, a Balinese fish curry, these little pleasures are to be savoured, fleeting moments conjuring food memories of my other ‘spiritual’ home, Bali.
Indonesian food goes very well with Melbournian summers. Some dishes are simple and economical: others demand some effort, especially this fresh Balinese fish curry, with its long list of ingredients for the paste, involving a market trip to an Asian grocery to source some of the more unusual ingredients. A good home-made curry paste makes all the difference. It really is worth the effort.
I learnt this classic Balinese fish curry at Janet deNeefe’s Casa Luna cooking school, which is attached to the Honeymoon guest house in Ubud, Bali. The curry sauce is rich, fragrant and complex and tastes just like Bali on a plate.
The curry paste.
- 6 garlic cloves,
- 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste/belacan/terasi ( toast over a flame before adding)
- 3 large chilli, seeded. These chillies are not hot but give colour and depth of flavour.
- 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric ( substitute dried powder if unavailable)
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger
- 3 candlenuts ( or use macadamia nuts )
- 1 teaspoon tamarind
- 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns. I prefer white.
- 2 stalks lemon grass, white section only. Save leaves and stems for adding to Asian stock.
- 3 shallots, roughly chopped.
- 1 large tomato
- 3 small hot chillies
- 2 tablespoons galangal
- 1.2 tablespoon kencur ( not available locally)
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons palm sugar
- stalk of torch ginger (optional)
- pinch of nutmeg
Prepare the ingredients by roughly chopping larger items. Put everything into a large Uleg, mortar and pestle or food processor and grind to a smooth paste. I began mine in the uleg (an Indonesian mortar) but quickly switched to the processor. You may need to add a little oil to blend them in a processor.
- 400 grams of fresh mackerel in chunks ( 3 cm by 3 cm) ( or any firm fish that is suitable to curry) I used sea bass. NOTE. I would recommend 600-700 gr of chosen fish.
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil, NOT olive oil.
- 3 salam leaves ( not available fresh in Melbourne)
- 1 lemongrass, bruised and tied in a knot,
- 1 torch ginger shoot bruised ( hard to find in Melbourne)
- salt to taste
- 1/2 cup or more of coconut milk
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 1.12 cups water.
After making the curry paste, by mortar or processor, heat a little plain oil in a wok and add paste to the hot oil, along with lemon grass tied in a knot and the lime leaves. Also add the salam leaves and torch ginger if you happen to have them. Stir around. Next add the chunks of fish, stirring around until they change colour, for a minute or two.
Add 1 cup of water, simmer gently then add the coconut milk. I use more than the stated 1/2 cup . Just add and taste. 1- 1/2 cups is about right for me. Check seasoning and add salt to taste.
As I had more sauce and not so much fish, I added a handful of green prawns, unshelled. Cooking them with shells on adds to the depth of flavour, imparting a fragrant tropical bouillabaisse sensation.
Have the rice cooking while making the curry. Balinese tend to use fat rice: Australian medium grain rice is perfect with this dish. Serve the curry in a big bowl with chopped coriander and lime wedges if you are lucky enough to have some.