Updated: Dec 3, 2020
"Here nature has spent up on the land her richest bounties. Alleppey, the Venice of the East."
Lord Curzon (Viceroy of India 1899-1905)
A Keralan fish curry with mango. Whether this dish really does come from Alleppey, as Keith Floyd claims in "Floyd's India", I couldn't confirm, but there is no doubt it comes from Kerala. A recipe for it appears in a charming book, "Flavours of the Spice Coast", I bought in a hotel in Varkala, written by an author who seems to be quite a prolific and popular food-writer in the region, a Mrs K. M. Mathew. She calls the dish "Fish with Mango", but a in a nod to the genius that is and was a Mr K. Floyd, I have chosen to use the recipe title of his choosing.
I have been making this dish for years, and I've obviously been tweaking and tinkering with the recipe over that time. I looked back in my notebooks and found two versions on almost adjacent pages and almost indistinguishable, so I'm not entirely sure what my thinking was back then.
Here I have made the dish with steaks of grey mullet, a fish that works very well in a curry. But it could equally successfully be made with fillets or steaks of gurnard, steaks of red mullet, or fillets of Dover sole, all of which are found on the market stall at this time of the year.
There are essentially two things I have altered in this recipe which I believe retain the flavour and character of the dish but make it easier to achieve. The first is that I use coconut milk in place of grated fresh coconut because, apart from being rather hard work to buy and grate a fresh coconut, we don't really have the type of wet-dry blenders that are available in India. The second is that I have separated the cooking of the garnish into two steps. The reason for this is that I have found it difficult to crispen up the shallot without burning the fenugreek seeds, or vice versa.
The green mango imparts a sour flavour to the dish, being small unripe mangoes, and they can be found in Asian and Thai grocers. In their absence, the sour element can be satisfactorily emulated with a teaspoon or so of tamarind paste which is very easy to find in supermarkets. I tend to buy several green mangoes at a time, slice them and freeze the slices for recipes such as this. Curry leaves are also found in Indian grocers (very occasionally you find them in supermarkets) but there's a link below to an online supplier. They freeze fantastically.
Apart from being a little challenging to source, the ingredient list may seem a little long. But if you think about it in terms of a marinade, a gravy (masala) and a garnish, then the list becomes shorter than it looks. All effort is rewarded, I assure you.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
Sunflower or vegetable oil
Fish steaks or fillets (see recipe introduction)
Green mango, a handful of fine slices
2 tbsp finely-sliced shallot
½ onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove and ½" piece of ginger, peeled and crushed to a paste
2-4 green chillies, deseeded and coarsely chopped
200ml coconut milk
1-1½ tsp Kashmiri chilli powder, or mix of Cayenne pepper and unsmoked paprika
1 tsp turmeric, plus a little extra
1 tsp coriander powder
2-4 dried red chillies
¾ tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
10-15 curry leaves
Salt the sliced shallot and fry until golden. Set aside on a piece of kitchen paper so that it crispens.
Marinate the fish pieces in a sprinkling of salt, a pinch of turmeric and a squeeze of lime juice. Leave for 20 minutes or so.
For the gravy, put the coconut milk, green chillies, chilli powder, coriander powder and turmeric in a blender and blitz until smooth.
Heat some oil in a sauté pan and fry the onions until soft, then add the ginger and garlic paste and fry for a minute or so more. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
Stir in the masala in a few stages making sure it does not curdle then return to a medium-low heat and bring to a simmer. Allow to cook for a few minutes to create a creamy gravy. Add the green mango pieces and simmer for a little longer until they have softened.
Add the fish pieces to the gravy and cook until the fish is ready. Put a lid on the pan if it will help cook the fish.
Meanwhile, for the garnish, heat a little more oil in a small saucepan and, when hot, add the dried red chillies, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and most of the crispy shallots. Once the seeds start crackling pour the garnish over the curry (it will sizzle), stir it in and then serve the curry with the remaining crispy shallots sprinkled on top.
"Floyd's India", Keith Floyd (2001), pp. 115: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Floyds-India-Keith-Floyd/dp/0004140885
"Flavours of the Spice Coast", Mrs K. M. Mathew (2002), pp. 26: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Flavours-of-the-Spice-Coast-by-K-M-Mathew/9780143029007
Curry leaves, amazon.co.uk, accessed 25 September 2019: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00HJ65238/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1