Cod in a Turmeric Tomato Sauce
Updated: Mar 20, 2020
"With us [the British], turmeric and cayenne pepper prevail in [curries] far too powerfully : the prodigal use of the former should be especially avoided, as it injures both the quality and the colour of the currie, ..."
Eliza Acton (1845)
Cod appears on the market stall in the colder months of the year. Given my attentiveness toward sustainability I have, for many years, looked to make my meagre offering in easing pressure on cod stocks by substituting it, where possible, with species whose stocks are in a healthier state: pollack being a great example. It is not the case that pollack cannot work here, it is just that I think this is one occasion when cod is the necessary star of the show. Just on that point, I have made this dish using hake with stellar results, but hake fisheries are elsewhere in the UK (and not many of those hake stay in the UK!).
This dish is an intrigue! Don't get me wrong, it's delicious (seriously so), but how that has come to be is a source of curiosity. It's hard to call it a curry, but then it wouldn't come as a surprise were it to be called one. And if it were a curry, then where could it have originated? At best I can posit Bengal given the use of mustard and yoghurt (see Doi Maach). But I think this could be unnecessary over-thinking!
For one thing, it is uncommon to find turmeric being the dominant flavouring ingredient of a dish (it has the tendency to impart bitterness). That said, this is not the first time I have found it to work (see Goan Mussel Curry).
This recipe comes from the TV series "Nigel Slater's Simple Cooking". The objective of the recipe was the creation of a "spicy and cool" sauce but then, in his ubiquitous style, Slater recommends the sauce to be used as a vehicle in which lamb or fish is cooked, and proceeds, instead, to cook (large, meaty) tomatoes in it to create a vegetarian plate. I made the tomatoes in tomato sauce proposition a number of times and really enjoyed it. But it really did stand out to me that this was one for a piece of good white fish and, having made it, there is no doubt that it is.
Whenever possible I will always opt for fresh, home-made ingredients so, rather than use a tin of tomatoes, I am inclined to use a combination of home-made tomato sauce mixed with fresh tomatoes, as I have described in the Notes. But a tin of tomatoes is perfectly good. I also urge to consider the note about cooking with yoghurt-based sauces, if it might be a help toward avoiding disappointment.
This is another recipe that works well for a dinner party in that the sauce can be prepared ahead up until and including step 2, then reheated, with steps 3 and 4 requiring only about 5 minutes to completion. I have found this to make a great meal served with aubergine slices grilled on a ridged grill pan (or BBQ), some rice with peas, and a green salad.
Cod in a Turmeric Tomato Sauce
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
600-800g skinned cod or hake fillet cut into 3-4 pieces
Sunflower or vegetable oil (or mild olive oil)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp chopped red chilli (or to taste)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1½ tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tin of chopped tomatoes (see note)
8-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
125g full-fat Greek yoghurt (see note)
Heat the oil in a wide, lidded, sauté pan and cook the onions until golden but not caramelised, then add the garlic and chopped red chilli and cook until the garlic has lost its raw flavour.
Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds, stir briefly, then add the turmeric and the chopped tomatoes along with their juice and a little water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavours to incorporate, and the tomatoes to break down. During this time a lid may be needed to prevent the sauce from drying out, or a little water may be needed to increase the moisture. In the end a thick but moist sauce is the aim. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
Bring the sauce back up to the boil. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper and place in the sauce along with the cherry tomatoes. Cover the pan and cook for about 3-4 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish fillets then turn the fish over gently and cook for a further 2 minutes until the fish is just about cooked through.
Carefully stir in the yoghurt so as not to break the fish pieces, allow to warm (do not boil) for a further minute and serve.
Instead of the tin of tomatoes an equivalent quantity of fresh tomato sauce or passata and peeled and finely chopped fresh tomatoes can be used.
When incorporating yoghurt into a sauce it is essential to use a full-fat variety. Low-fat alternatives will not emulsify to create a creamy sauce. Instead the sauce becomes thin and watery and potentially grainy. It is also important not to let a yoghurt sauce boil as it will almost certainly split.
Gaja Ca'Marcanda Promis 2016: Despite being a Syrah with its capacity for intensity, this red is light enough to accompany a fish dish and balances the bitter tendency of the turmeric and the slight sourness of the yoghurt. https://www.wine-searcher.com/find/gaja+ca+marcanda+promis+tuscany+igp+italy
"Turmeric Tomatoes With Yoghurt", Nigel Slater's Simple Cooking, BBC (2011), accessed 18 September 2019: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00ky3zl
Goan Mussel Curry: https://www.butestseafoodie.com/post/goan-mussel-curry