"Curry and monkfish? What a strange pairing. What on earth is she thinking?"
Yuto Tsukuda (1986-)
It's with somewhat mixed feelings that I post this recipe. On a positive note it's a dish I knocked up for my mother as a quick and simple lunch one day (and have made it many times since) and she loved it. On another, it's a neat example of what can be done with my "Fish Masala", posted more than 2 years ago.
But I post it at a time when, only a month ago, the Marine Conservation Society were compelled to put monkfish on their 'Fish to Avoid' list. This in itself is something of a mixed bag of news. In the North Sea and west of Scotland the monkfish population has fallen to its lowest level since 2013, having reached a peak in 2017. By contrast, in the southwest waters (notably Cornwall), numbers are at a record high and the fishing grounds retain their amber rating ('OK, needs improvement'). This page gives the details. Now, given that I buy direct from fishermen I can be assured that the monkfish comes from the southwest, but it has opened my eyes even wider as to how intricate a subject is that of the sustainability of our seafood.
Monkfish was as good as never on the market stall until relatively recently and I can't say at this moment I am completely on top of its seasonality. What I can say is that in the last few weeks it has been coming to the market and in reasonable quantity at that. I was keen to make this dish again.
The gravy for the curry is made by liquidising the basic Fish Masala with tomato puree and lime juice to create a smooth result. Other than that it's just a matter of cooking the fish and cherry tomatoes in the gravy along with a good dose of chopped coriander, a process which takes no more than five minutes.
With what I have said above in mind there are other fish that would work brilliantly given this treatment. At the top of the list is probably my favourite fish in the sea, the gurnard. However I would happily make it with the very much in season black bream as well as grey mullet, red mullet, pollack or even conger eel. Prawns would be another excellent option. Lobster would probably be a bit over-extravagant but I would certainly not turn it away if offered to me - lobster holds up against the spices of a curry much more admirably than is commonly thought.
With a nice smooth but not especially thin gravy this curry suits being served with either rice or bread. I like it served with both.
You can actually achieve a very similar result by using a store-bought ready-made curry paste - trust me, I've done it more than once! Here is not really the place to be recommending a brand or style but I've found a 'Madras' or 'Tikka Masala' to work well. For instructions on using a ready-made curry paste see the notes.
In terms of using the Bute Street Seafoodie Fish Masala, it is not essential to liquidise the masala. The result of doing so is to create the sort of consistency in the gravy that you might expect in your high street British Indian restaurant.
The first step in this recipe marinates the fish in turmeric and salt. My understanding is that in the times when refrigeration wasn't available to the Indian cook, turmeric was used for its antiseptic properties to cleanse the fish. As a result, it would seem, the majority of Indian fish recipes start by rubbing turmeric into the fish - no longer to decontaminate it but to recreate the flavour that would have come from the turmeric through the process. Equally many recipes sprinkle salt onto the fish and allow it to work its magic for a period of 20 minutes or so, that magic being to draw some moisture out of the fish thereby firming it up. Some recipes also add garam masala and/or lemon or lime juice in the marinade and I do so here. You can use any or all of the marinade ingredients or even omit the marination completely given we are blessed with fresh fish and refrigeration nowadays!
Monkfish and Cherry Tomato Curry
Ingredients (Serves 2)
350-400g monkfish, cut into 1½" chunks
2 or 3 pinches of ground turmeric
2 or 3 pinches of garam masala (optional)
Half quantity of Fish Masala (approx 160g)
2 tsp tomato purée
2 tsp lime juice, plus a little extra
1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
Whole green chillies, slit lengthways or sliced diagonally, quantity to taste
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves, plus extra leaves for garnishing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rub the fish pieces with the turmeric, garam masala (if using), a few pinches of salt and a squeeze of lime juice. Leave to marinate for 20 mins.
Put the Fish Masala, tomato purée and lime juice in a blender and blitz until it becomes a smooth curry paste.
Heat the oil then cook the curry paste over a medium-high heat until the oil starts to rise to the surface. Add the fish, the cherry tomatoes, green chillies and a splash of water, bring to the boil then add the chopped coriander and a little water to create a gravy. Simmer over a medium-low heat for 4-5 mins until the fish is cooked.
Check the seasoning and adjust with salt, pepper and additional lime juice, then garnish with coriander leaves and serve.
To make with a ready-made curry paste: Use the quantity of paste indicated on the container for 2 servings. Omit step 2 and instead simply combine the curry paste with the tomato purée and lime juice.