This majestic and intensely fragrant Burmese 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 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, hot and sour 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 hot and sour 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.
About these dishes
I came across these dishes in a restaurant about 20 years ago and loved them. 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 description the restaurant 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
I have made this dish many times with different fish including cod, haddock, monkfish and king prawns. Just make sure the fish is skinned and off the bone.
If using prawns, the largest prawns in their shells are terrific but shelled raw prawns work well for ease. Personally I love the flavour you get using raw prawns in their shells, but I appreciate not everyone likes to peel them at the table!
Mind you, this sauce is also fabulous with chicken, lentils or vegetables: cauliflower works especially well.
Recipe – Burmese fish curry – serves 4
For the fish curry
- 600g raw fish of choice (skinned & boned): cod, haddock, monkfish, king prawns…
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 small bulb of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
- 4″ piece fresh ginger, peeled
- 2 teaspoons mild chilli powder (go hotter if you prefer)
- 1 small mild red chilli, de-deeded
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 3-4 large onions(about 500g), peeled
- 1 tablespoon dried prawns, optional
- 4 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
- 600ml water
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- a handful (about 50g) fresh coriander, leaves and stalks
(1) Peel the onions and put the onions, garlic, red chilli, ginger, coriander stalks and dried prawns (if using) into a food processor. Blitz for a few moments to give a thickish paste.
(2) Heat the oil in large pan over a medium heat and add the chilli powder and 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) 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 leaves.
For the hot and sour 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.