Sunday 15 April 2012

Malaysian Fish Head Curry

It's a bit gnarly, this dish. I am fully expecting a lot of you to recoil in horror, and some "bleurgh!"s bursting from you as you read this. Fish heads aren't that scary, really. As long as you don't think about it too carefully, and maybe avoid looking it in the eye as you lower it into the broth.

The head simmers in the curry broth, imparting crucial base notes of the sea. Fish heads are packed full of meat, and the most prized part is the cheek meat just under the eye. Nudge this bit out with the tip of your chopstick and you're rewarded with a nugget of tender, silky flesh. The skin droops off, falling into the soup and adding an extra texture, thickening it with the collagen.
For a little extra luxury I added mussels as I had them kicking around, but this isn't particularly traditional. Green beans and okra provided textures - crunchy and slimy - that worked well with the fish. I spent a happy 15 minutes picking my way around the head, fishing deep into the bowl to ladle the curry broth onto my rice. The curry was heady with spice and a squeeze of lime juice and a splash of fish sauce added fragrance.

All the recipes I found called for fish curry powder; this was kindly gifted to me from Goz. You can buy it online here, or most Asian supermarkets will sell it. If you can't be bothered to cook this and you're in London, go to Goz's supperclub instead.

Malaysian Fish Head Curry

Serves 2

1 fish head - mine was hake. My fishmonger kindly gave it to me for free. Avoid stronger, oily fish; snapper, cod, grouper or hake work best.
4 tbsp Malaysian fish curry powder
1 onion
6 cloves of garlic
2" galangal
1 stick of lemongrass
4 dried red chillis, rehydrated
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt

1/2 tin of coconut milk
A handful of okra
A handful of fine green beans
2 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 tbsp tamarind pulp, loosened in 300mls water - use your hands to work the pulp
2 sprigs of curry leaves - not dried
20 mussels (optional)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 a lime
1 tsp fish sauce
A few sprigs of coriander, for garnish

Rub the fish head with salt and set aside for 15 minutes. Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry frying pan. Add to a blender or a pestle and mortar to blend with the garlic, onion, chilli, lemongrass and salt. In a separate bowl add a little water to the curry powder to mix into a paste.

Heat some oil in a pan. Add the curry leaves and onion spice paste, and fry slowly until golden and toasty. Add the curry powder paste mix. Add the tamarind water (strained) and the coconut milk, then bring to a boil. Add the okra, and simmer gently for 5 - 10 minutes. Rinse the fish head, and then carefully place that in with the slices of tomato and the green beans. Place the lid on and cook on a gentle heat for 10 - 15 mins (depending on the size of your head). If using, add the mussels during the last two minutes of cooking, just so that they open up. Remove the lid and take off the heat. Add the fish sauce and the sugar, then replace the lid and leave to stand for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle.

Ladle the head out of the pot, then spoon the curry sauce around it and garnish with coriander leaves and a wedge of lime. Serve with rice.


J@Feasttotheworld said... head curry? I love this dish and yours look every bit as delicious . The additional of okra was definitely in keeping with the traditional. I used to have this in Singapore all the time...with a nice bowl of steam rice .
Love it!

Shu Han said...

omg lizzie I just made this 2 days ago. didn't have fish cury powder, but I made up one using a recipe by the chef of muthu's curry (where it all started).

Chris Pople said...

Can you make this next please?

Su-Lin said...

Nice one! The heads go so cheap - I need to try it with salmon heads...they always seem to be available...

Helen said...

I would totally go there, obviously! I'd look him in the eye n all...looks lush.

Hollow Legs said...

J - Thanks! I love okra, but I've also read some people use aubergine, which is another favourite of mine.

Shu - Great minds think alike! I'd be interested to see your recipe.

Chris - They do sell goat heads in Peckham....

Su-Lin - thanks! I have a salmon head in the freezer, but wondered if it would be a bit too strongly flavoured. That one is destined to go under the grill with some miso...

The Grubworm said...

Having picked my way round a pigs head (BIG pan needed for that bugger) I have no problems with fish (or any other0 type of head. And I LOVE digging out those sweet cheeks. Yum.

I've never cooked it in a curry before though, although now I want to try it out badly. Might have to wait until i have my own kitchen again. Love the combo with the okra too, complementary textures as well as a great flavour combo. Right, off to find some fish curry powder now.

Helena Lee said...

Nostalgia! Where do you get your fish heads from? The cheapest I've found is Billingsgate at 50p per huge salmon head, but otherwise 80p from local fishmonger. Looks delicious. x

Anonymous said...

Looks amazing, funny how people retreat at the sight of one part of an animal. Is this Possibly a western thing, or a modern thing?
That said fish sauce scares me; I always think it’s going to ruin my cooking. That’s probably a Western thing as well. Maybe I should use it more to understand its flavour.
Hake look cool. Possibly Ling or Pollack would be more sustainable? We are getting superb Pollack at the moment of Devon Day boats.
Cool post

S said...

the head is one of those poor, neglected part of the fish which is absolutely lovely; so much flavour is in it. oh well, more for us if others scrunch their nose up at it. your soup with the coconut milk must be silky with deep notes of the fish. love. x s

tori said...

Nothing better than the cheek meat... do you eat the eye?

last minute kemer said...

I`ve tried this recipe and i`m really impressed, it has a very good taste. My both child tried it and they like it a lot. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Glen said...

Interesting twist to add mussels to this dish. I think this is the Malaysian style assam pedas (hot and sour) type curry?

I just made the Indian style version of fish head curry and put the recipe up.

Will try this version too. Looks really good!