The flesh of the mullet has a deep sweetness but with the intense umami character traditionally associated with lobster or crab.
- 80 ml (2½ fl oz/⅓ cup) vegetable oil
- 1 brown onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 large tomato, roughly chopped
- 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) tamarind water (see note), plus extra as required
- 2 tsp caster (superfine) sugar, plus extra as required
- 400 ml (14 fl oz) tinned coconut milk
- 2 long green chillies, split lengthways, seeds removed
- 20 fresh curry leaves
- ½ tsp black mustard seeds
- 400–500 g (14 oz-1 lb 2 oz) whole mullet, filleted, each fillet (about 200 g/7 oz each) cut into 2 large pieces
- roti, to serve
- lime wedges, to serve
- 3 cm (1¼ in) piece ginger, peeled
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 tsp chilli powder
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- pinch of ground fenugreek
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
To make the curry paste, blend all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. If necessary, add a couple of teaspoons of water to get the paste moving.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a medium-large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the onion and fry for 3 minutes, or until soft and golden. Stir in the curry paste and fry for a few minutes more, still stirring.
Add the tomato, tamarind water and sugar, increase the heat to medium-high, then cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the coconut milk, chillies and 100 ml (3½ fl oz) of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium–low and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Taste for balance: if the curry needs a little more sourness or sharpness, add a touch more tamarind; if it needs sweetness, add caster sugar – just a little at a time to avoid over-seasoning.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat until smoking, then add half the curry leaves. Toss for 30 seconds, or until crisp. Remove from the oil using a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towel to drain for serving. With the pan still on the heat, add the mustard seeds and remaining curry leaves. Fry for 30 seconds, or until the mustard seeds start to pop, then remove the pan from the heat and add these leaves, the seeds and the oil to the curry sauce.
Remove the curry sauce from the heat and add the mullet to the saucepan. Poach off the heat for 1-2 minutes, or until just cooked.
Serve immediately, from the saucepan or a serving bowl. Top with the reserved fried curry leaves, and serve with roti and lime wedges on the side.
• Tamarind water is available in Asian supermarkets. Or make your own by soaking tamarind pulp in boiling water until cool. Mash with a fork, then strain out the pulp.
Recipe and image from Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook by John Susman, Anthony Huckstep, Sarah Swan, and Stephen Hodges (Murdoch Books, HB, $79.99). Photography by Ben Dearnley.
Read more on how to buy the freshest fish here.