This majestic and intensely fragrant curry, using common store cupboard spices, is very simple and quick to make.
The flavours in this curry are, I think, sublime: there’s a natural saltiness from the fish sauce, warmth from the spices and just a slight sweetness. This is not a hot curry, chilli-wise; it has just a gentle heat, although you can increase the chilli content if you prefer.
I love to serve this dish with fried onions scattered over, spiced tomatoes (recipe below) and simple boiled rice. However, a coconut rice is wonderful too: just add a handful of desiccated coconut to the rice water as it cooks and sprinkle over some toasted coconut to serve.
The spiced tomatoes are excellent served cold or at room temperature as a condiment with curries but it also makes the basis of a great curry in its own right: just add chicken, fish or vegetables to it and simmer until cooked.
I like the sauce to be on the wetter side rather than too dry: one of the joys of curries for me is scooping up the wondeful sauce at the end with rice, naan or even just a spoon. However, you can reduce the sauce even more before adding the fish, meat or vegetables.
About these dishes
I came across these dishes in a restaurant about 30 years ago where they appeared as simply Burmese fish curry: the fish curry itself and its tomato accompaniment hit the spot big time for me!
I was stunned by the depth of flavour in the fish curry owing, in no small part, to the Thai fish sauce that works so magically with the other ingredients. The natural saltiness it brings is particularly wonderful.
I asked the restaurant if they could give me a recipe for the fish curry: I often do this and I have no shame! On this occasion they could not give me the recipe as the dishes were a family recipe: and who can blame them?
However, going by the loose description the owner gave me, I set to work to try to recreate it.
A few iterations later and I have what is a very close fit to the wonderful dish served to me in the restaurant.
I sometimes like to add some dried prawns to the paste, which I use a lot in Thai dishes. They add a rich, sweet “meaty” flavour here as they cook down, but the curry is excellent without it.
Great with fish, chicken or vegetables
This curry sauce is fabulous with chicken, chick peas, lentils or vegetables: cauliflower works especially well.
I often make it with chicken and lentils which work so well together, especially with the lentils taking on the flavour of the sauce.
If staying with fish, the curry works very well with cod, haddock, monkfish and king prawns. Just make sure the fish is skinned and off the bone.
Recipe: hot & sour fish curry – serves 4
For the hot & sour curry
- 600g raw fish of choice (skinned & boned): cod, haddock, king prawns… (or alternatives – see above)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 fat cloves of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
- 4″ piece fresh ginger, peeled (or 3 pieces stem ginger from a jar or 2 teaspoons powdered ginger)
- 1 small mild red chilli, de-deeded
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 3-4 large onions(about 500g) – any type – peeled
- 3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 600ml water
- a handful (about 50g) fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, optional
(1) Put the onions, garlic, red chilli and ginger into a food processor. Blitz for a few moments to give a thickish paste.
NB: if using up red peppers, for example, blitz these too.
(2) Heat the oil in large pan over a medium heat and add the turmeric. Cook gently for 1 minute, stirring a little.
(3) Add the onion mixture, the fish sauce and the sugar and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time to ensure it doesn’t catch.
(4) Add the water and bring to a simmer. Put the lid on and cook for about 20 minutes before removing the lid and cooking for a further 15-20 minutes to reduce slightly. This is now a wonderful curry sauce in its own right that just needs the fish (or chicken/vegetables/pulses) adding to.
NB: don’t be tempted to taste the sauce until it has cooked and reduced as it needs the time for the flavours to develop.
(5) Cut the fish into chunks an inch or so in size and add to the curry sauce. Put the lid on and simmer very gently until the fish is cooked: 5-10 minutes depending on the fish – take a piece and test it breaks apart easily. Gently stir through the chopped coriander and serve.
For the spiced tomatoes
- 1 tin tomatoes or about 500g fresh tomatoes, ideally skinned
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 2″ piece fresh ginger, grated
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 fresh green or red chilli, de-deeded and finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
- 1 medium onion, peeled and either finely chopped or grated
- 200ml water
- 2 tablespoons wine vinegar (red, white or even cider vinegar)
- a small handful of finely chopped fresh coriander, plus extra to serve
(1) Put the ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil. Put the lid on and turn the heat to low. Simmer gently for about an hour, giving it a stir from time to time and removing the lid after about 45 minutes.