Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thai Red Curry Fish Stew

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If you have been watching the news, you know that fresh fish will be hard to come by this summer and possibly for a few summers to come.  When I lived in Florida, in a key off the city of Miami, it was easy to go down to the docks and pick out any fresh fish in season, but now that I live in land locked Georgia I have had to adapt to new ways of cooking what is available.  That leaves me with lake fish such as striped bass, which is not my favorite, and flash frozen from the supermarket, Costco or Trader Joe's.

When you get freshly caught fish off the docks, all you need to do is add a little oil, garlic and lemon to the pan and you have a masterpiece.  Unfortunately, with flash frozen, no matter how good, you need to be more creative.  I have found that aside from breading and frying, Thai recipes, with their aromatic sauces, provide a great alternative.

Versions of red curry abound in Thailand, but most are flavored with a paste of red chiles, garlic, shallots, galangal (similar to ginger), and shrimp paste, and have coconut milk as their base. Light coconut milk works well in this stew, and prepared Thai red curry paste, found in most supermarkets, makes it a snap to put together. The spice level in prepared red curry pastes varies depending on the brand, so taste before using. Start with 2 tbsp., then increase it if you like. For a more authentic flavor, add 1 tbsp. minced lemon grass and 2 makrut (Kaffir) lime leaves instead of the grated lime zest in step 4, and use Thai basil instead of regular. Find these ingredients at Asian markets and in specialty-produce departments.

I have plenty of Thai and other recipes for preparing fish so don't despair.  Necessity is the mother of invention and we will get by.

Prep and Cook time: 45 minutes

Yield:  Makes 6 servings (serving size: 1 1/2 cups of curry and 1 cup of rice)


3 cups jasmine rice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large sweet potato or yam

2 cans (13 1/2 oz. each) light coconut milk, divided

2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste

2 teaspoons freshly grated lime zest (green part only)

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

2 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 1/2 pounds firm fish fillets, such as halibut or tilapia (salmon should work also)

6 ounces fresh whole spinach leaves

1 cup loosely packed basil (Thai basil is best)

1 cup loosely packed mint leaves

Lime wedges


1. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add rice and salt. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook 15 minutes, then turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

2. Meanwhile, bring 1 in. of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Peel sweet potato and cut into 1/2-in. cubes. Put in a steamer basket over boiling water. Cover and steam until tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

3. While sweet potato is cooking, spoon about 1/4 cup from top of coconut milk in each can (the thick opaque layer) and put in a 4- to 5-qt. pot or deep sauté pan. Add curry paste and whisk until smoothly blended. Stir mixture over medium heat until nearly dry, 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Reduce heat to medium-low and add remaining coconut milk, lime zest, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Simmer 5 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, cut fish into 1 1/2-in. cubes. Increase heat to medium; add fish and spinach. Cover and cook until fish is no longer translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.

6. Chop basil and mint and stir into stew along with sweet potato cubes. Serve with rice and lime wedges.

Notes: Yukon Gold potatoes work nicely in place of sweet potato and have a similar cooking time.

Wine pairings: A chilled white burgundy or rose

Sunset Magazine
Photo Leo Gong

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