Updated: Dec 12, 2021
"Mild enough for children to enjoy..."
Maria Teresa Menezes (2000)
I'm, once again, indebted to Goan friend Claudette, owner of No Worries Curries for much discussion on how to prepare this classic Goan dish in a simple, no-fuss, home-style manner. I'm delighted with the result.
Caldine (or Caldinho as is its original Portuguese name) is a mild, pale and creamy curry, almost exclusively made with fish and, which according to Maria Teresa Menezes, author of "The Essential Goa Cookbook", is "mild enough for children to enjoy...". The spicing is kept minimal in the masala which consists of only cumin seed, ground coriander, turmeric, black peppercorns and garlic. Green chillies do feature but are included whole and slit so as to contribute their flavour without imparting their heat. Those wanting a more exhilarating meal are, of course, welcome to devour the chillies!
It would be quite typical for this dish to be made with pomfret, a fish indigenous to the Indian Ocean, but not to be found anywhere near any of the waters surrounding the British Isles. It has a mild-flavoured and meaty flesh not dissimilar to our native John Dory, which is my fish of choice for this recipe. The delicately-spiced gravy is sympathetic enough to warrant enjoying what can be quite an expensive fish variety, and, after many trials of the recipe I am convinced it is the fish for the dish. Gurnard would be a very good alternative but, as the cooking method, as well as the flavour, is so gentle, pretty much any white fish will work. Curiously, both pomfret and John Dory are quite often mistakenly referred to as "flat-fish" because of their narrow (vertical!) profile. In fact, to become flat-fish one of their eyes would have to roll around to join the other one and the fish would have to start swimming on its side - that's a flat-fish, however weird.
The John Dory this year started coming to the market much later in the year than would be considered usual. In years gone by I would always be looking forward to buying John Dory from about August through into the winter. This year I don't think we saw any before about October. One reason I have been given is that the large, efficient boats operating close to the exclusion zone off the south coast of England are leaving very little left for the inshore fishermen, who bring their produce to the local markets, once they've been and completed their marine-scape hoovering-up.
With such a subtle and creamy gravy I would not hesitate to give some of the even more expensive seafood varieties such as turbot, prawns and lobster this treatment. And, with regard to the latter, a tub or two of the picked lobster meat from Dorset Fish, available in the summer, would be just the thing! Serve with rice and perhaps a full-bodied Portuguese white wine?
There's really nothing much to this dish - in fact it's one of the simplest curries you'll ever make (but then I said that with my "Fish or Prawn Molee"). Probably the most important thing to bear in mind is that, because the cooking of the fish is so brief and so gentle, it's essential to make sure that the fish is at room temperature before it goes in the pan.
The garnish of coriander leaves is very welcome here and a bowl of steamed basmati rice is a perfect accompaniment.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
300g John Dory fillets, skinned and cut into 2" pieces
1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil (or coconut oil)
½ tsp cumin seeds
6 black peppercorns
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, peeled
75g onion, sliced into half rings
2 green chillies, slit lengthways
150ml coconut milk, from a well-shaken tin
A few coriander leaves, for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle the fish with 1½ tsp salt and leave aside for 15 mins.
Meanwhile pound the cumin seeds, black peppercorns, turmeric, coriander and garlic to a paste using a pestle and mortar (it is helpful to start with the cumin seeds and black peppercorns).
Dilute 50ml of the coconut milk with 50ml of water.
Heat the oil in a wok, sauté pan or chef's pan and gently fry the onions until translucent, about 5 mins. Add the spice paste and the green chillies and stir-fry for a couple of minutes until the spices have cooked out (use a splash of water if the paste starts to stick and risks burning). Pour in the diluted coconut milk, stir and bring to the boil.
Add the fish pieces and the remaining coconut milk and with a little agitation, or only gentle stirring, return to the boil then immediately remove from the heat, cover and leave for 5 mins.
Check and adjust the seasoning, garnish with the coriander leaves and serve with steamed rice.
"The Essential Goa Cookbook", Maria Teresa Menezes (2000), pp. 89: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Cookbook-Maria-Teresa-Menezes/dp/0141000872