Mauritian-influenced fish curry

‘Vindaye,’ say my Friends Of Mauritian Origin (FOMO), ‘is not just another KZN fish curry.’ I think a Durban fish curry is a marvellous thing, but FOMO disagree. So here is an island take on a great series of tastes and aromas.

Mauritian-influenced fish curry
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To make a Mauritian-influenced fish curry for four fans of the Dodo, you will need:

  • 1kg of barracuda or kingklip
  • 12 generous prawns
  • 300g pickling onions
  • 12 cloves of garlic (not a misprint)
  • 25mm fresh ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons of mustard seeds
  • 250ml white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons of ground jeera (cumin)
  • 3 green chillies
  • 6 sprigs of fresh coriander (dhania)
  • Olive oil, salt, black pepper on demand 

First question: is this a curry or a pickled fish recipe? The answer is – both. Best served at room temperature, suggests pickled. The spices – especially chillies and tumeric – suggest otherwise.

The fish should be filleted, thick-cut and ideally have the skin on. If frozen, thaw the prawns in water from the cold tap. Rip off the heads. With a small pair of scissors, cut along the top of the tail. Peel off the shell and discard the colon which delicate folk prefer to call “the vein”. Believe me, this is no vein. Enough said.

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Peel and grate the fresh ginger and then peel the little onions and leave them whole. Crush, peel and finely chop the garlic. Discard the seeds from the chillies and then finely chop the rest.

Wash your hands carefully after handling raw chillies. Do not accidentally touch lips, eyes or any other nerve-enhanced part of the body. The tumeric should be fresh. Spices start to die the moment they are ground.

One recipe I discovered suggested 30g of saffron instead of turmeric. One should remember that a fair number of the original French colonists of Mauritius were hugely rich aristocrats fleeing the revolution of 1789. This probably explains the 30g of saffron.

Fry the fish fillets seasoned with salt and black pepper in olive oil, for four minutes a side, turning them once. When cool, break them into chunks by hand and remove any last remaining bones. Swiftly fry the prawns for 30 seconds a side, turning once. Remove and allow to cool. Fry the whole baby onions and the chopped de-seeded chillies for 15 minutes over low heat until they are soft and translucent.

In a small bowl, combine the ground cumin, vinegar, turmeric, garlic, ginger as well as chopped fresh coriander leaves and stir into the hot oil. Simmer for three minutes, then carefully (so as not to break up the fish chunks) add the cooked fish and prawns to the spiced oil in the pan. Turn gently to coat.

Chill in the fridge overnight and serve for lunch or dinner the next day. Room temperature is best for this delicious combination of island magic and traditional Durban charm.