Friday, July 28, 2017

Making Fish Palatable to a Non Fish Eater

My husband has never liked fish. 

He has managed to eat things like "fish and chips," where there is more greasy breading than actual fish, and he is more apt to leave chunks of fish on the plate and eat every last morsel of the greasy, fried breading. Getting him to eat plain fish on a plate has always been near-hopeless. It must be disguised in some way, so the flavor is not prominent.
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables

And on to the next difficulty...

My husband has never liked cauliflower. 

Nor broccoli, nor cabbage except under very particular circumstances. He doesn't like radishes, or mesclun greens or parsnips or even carrots all that much... and the list is long. He has eaten some of these. The circumstance is generally very particular. Raw cabbage is totally out. He hates sauerkraut, and even more hates the home-fermented sauerkraut I have made.

But back to cauliflower. Some time ago, I was on a diet and tried making cauliflower "mashed potatoes." Real mashed potatoes, or potatoes served almost any way at all, EXCEPT if they have skin, are on the absolute "yes" list. He tolerated the pureed cauliflower, but didn't necessarily go so far as to say he liked it. 
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables

He has been having some pretty severe health issues over the last half year, and now it is becoming imperative that his diet expand into more healthy realms. And I have, so far,  managed to get him to eat salmon and cod. Again, he does not say he "likes" the meal, but that it is "okay." 

Yesterday, I wanted to make some beautiful haddock fillets for lunch, and was wondering how I could sneak in some cauliflower. I figured the only possibly way would be to shred the cauliflower and make it part of the scenery, so to speak. I found a recipe for fish in "My Indian Cookbook," by Amandip Uppal. It called for a marinade using tamarind and coconut milk. I love both of these, and while my husband loves the flavor of coconut milk (but won't eat coconut!), he doesn't really know much about tamarind, outside of the fact that it does go into many Indian dishes I have made. As for flavor, he is unaware.

I looked through the cookbook to see what might be done with cauliflower, and in general, it seemed that I could possibly get by if I added grated cauliflower (of late, it is often called "cauliflower rice") and other veggies to the recipe for the fish, since it would have a fair amount of liquidy sauce to it. And since runny sauces are another thing my husband dislikes, I thought if it was thickened up with vegetables, it might - just - work. It did, and with flying colors. The recipe is so extremely flavorful, I could have easily eaten the whole pan full myself, but I was good and shared 😇 - and he did actually say the words: "I really like this!"

I did follow the recipe from "My Indian Cookbook" fairly closely, up to the point where I added all the vegetables. In all, I added 1 cup of grated cauliflower, ½ cup of red bell pepper, ½ cup of tomatoes and ½ cup of frozen peas. This is in addition to the whole onion called for in the recipe. So we had over 4 cups worth of vegetables altogether that were split between us for lunch. Granted, coconut milk is high calorie, but all the remaining ingredients were not. So it all balances out. And it tastes so very, very good.


Tamarind Pods
Tamarind Pods
Tamarind is a souring agent in many Southeast Asian and Indian foods and it also is used extensively in Caribbean cooking. I learned to use it to make a refreshing beverage while living in Guatemala. It is every bit as refreshing as a good homemade lemonade on a hot day. Tamarind pods grow on trees. The pods have a brittle shell and very dense, sticky, sour "fruit" inside that encloses black, shiny seeds. Using tamarind pods is simple enough: remove as much of the brittle shell as possible, along with loose fibers (seen in the photo at right), and soak the sticky insides in water for about a half hour or more. To make a sauce, simply squeeze and rub the softened fruit in the water, remove as many seeds as possible, then press through a larger holed strainer. It can be a very thick sauce or a very thin and runny sauce. For this recipe, a slightly thicker sauce is best.

I used 4 tamarind pods for the recipe, and my sauce was a little thinner than I wanted, but it can always be cooked down in the recipe.

Our local Walmart store is now carrying whole tamarind pods, and we are not in a large city at all. Granted, there are quite a few orientals up here. Tamarind pods are also found on Amazon. If you prefer, tamarind is often sold in a compressed "cake." The brittle shells are removed and the sticky insides are pressed together into a block and sold. Some packages say they are seedless, but do not take that for granted! To use this kind of compressed cake, simply cut off a chunk and soak it in water as for the fresh pods and proceed the same way.

Other Ingredients

Some other ingredients that some may not have in their pantries are things like brown mustard seeds or dried coconut milk powder. Again, Amazon to the rescue. Some groceries carry brown mustard seeds. If not, white mustard seeds can be substituted. Cumin seeds and coriander seeds are generally available in groceries, as well as cans of unsweetened coconut milk. My preferred brand is Thai Kitchen. 

Curry leaves are also used in this recipe, and while they give a slightly citrus-like flavor and aroma, there is no real substitute. These are also available on Amazon. I ordered fresh curry leaves (Ajika brand) and they arrived beautifully fresh and green. I promptly placed the bag into a zip-top freezer bag and placed them in the freezer. They turn black in the freezer, but regain some green color if left out to thaw. Remove one stem or a few leaves as called for in a recipe and return the remainder to the freezer.

The fish I used was haddock, but cod is also excellent for this recipe (and for my finicky husband's palate). It is very white and very mild and flakes beautifully when cooked.

Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables

Serves 2
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables

2 white fish fillets such as haddock, halibut or cod

4 tablespoons tamarind sauce (see above)
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon coriander seed, ground
¾ teaspoon garam masala
- pinch of salt
1½ tablespoons coconut milk powder
- pinch cayenne
2 - 3 tablespoons cooking oil
¾ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
5 curry leaves, torn in small pieces
1 green chili pepper, slit down one side
1 onion, chopped finely
1 cup finely grated cauliflower
1 clove garlic, minced
½-inch fresh ginger, minced
½ cup red bell pepper, chopped in small pieces
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
- pinch black pepper
salt, to taste
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup frozen peas

Combine the marinade ingredients in a container that will hold the fish. Add the fish to the marinade and ensure all sides of the fish are covered with marinade. Set aside for about 30 minutes, while preparing the rest of the dish.

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add in the mustard seeds, curry leaves and the whole green chili pepper. Toss in the oil until all the mustard seeds pop. Add in the onion and cauliflower and cook, stirring, until the onion and cauliflower develop some brown spots. Add in the garlic and ginger and cook until the raw smell disappears. Add in the bell pepper and tomatoes and cook until mostly dry. Remove the fish fillets from the marinade and set aside.

fry onion & cauliflower - add pepper and tomatoes - cook - set fish aside
fry onion & cauliflower      -      add pepper and tomatoes             -             cook             -                set fish aside
Pour the marinade into the skillet and bring to a simmer. Add in the cumin seeds, black pepper and salt and stir. Let this mixture simmer to break down all the vegetables, about 10 minutes, then stir in the second ½ cup coconut milk. Now, add the fish to the pan and nestle it in the sauce. Continue cooking until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Timing will depend on the thickness of your fillets.
add marinade to skillet        -     cook about 10 minutes        -       add fish to pan       -      cover the fish with the sauce

Once the fish is cooked, add in the peas and allow to cook until the peas are heated through, about 3 minutes. Serve with rice, if desired (I used red rice), or serve in a bowl as for stew. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.