Bruneian/Malaysian comfort foods, featuring: Fish Curry
As I did promise, I would cook a fish curry — known as “Kari Ikan” in Malay. Now, fish can be prepared in different ways: butter and herbs (grilled or baked), in the style of “Fish and Chips”, steamed with ginger, sweet and sour, and curry.
Fish is often very well served in Brunei. You know it’s a very fresh and well-cooked fish when you can taste the meat’s natural sweetness. This may sound disgusting, but it is an interesting fact: the bigger the fish, the tastier the eye, according to a cousin. Here is a snapshot of a steamed red snapper dish:
We were lucky enough to try Fried Pomfret in at a seafood restaurant in Kota Kinabalu. Our day long experience there was horrible; the bowl of laksa I had at a food court was nowhere near edible — it would invite Gordon Ramsay to swear ‘bloody donkey’ to the cooks for the rubbery shrimp. We didn’t do our homework in researching places to eat and such. The city was so polluted with smog; there were uninvited critters in the budget hotel. We didn’t have much luck for food in KK as we did in Brunei and South Korea. However, it was definitely a delight to have fresh coconut with fried pomfret:
A fellow foodie told me that sea-water fish is a lot better for curries. I was hoping local freshwater fish would be fine too, but the texture isn’t the same. Okay, maybe cooking Bruneian food here isn’t that all environmentally friendly, factoring all the travel of imported ingredients; it will be, however, an occasional treat. My dinner guests were very contented. My chicken satay was a hit! No left-overs for that one, sorry. Chicken satay tastes better when barbecued and brushed with honey at the very end. However, it’s no longer BBQ season, so I settled for the griddle. For the side, fresh cucumbers, lightly fried bok choy with garlic, and coconut pandan rice.
into this ->
I am still in the process of learning what the best taste for fish curry is, so I am starting with pre-packaged spices. Compared with the Ibrahim brand, I think the curry in that picture is spicier. To accompany this spicy dish, I prepared coconut pandan basmatic rice:
What did my mortar and pestle do on Friday night? It brought us home-made satay and satay sauce. I am still in search for the perfect satay curried gravy sauce. There were two great ways of preparing it: It can be made using the food processor or a mortar and pestle. If the latter, it would be easier to pound the garlic and shallots prior to adding cooking oil. Mmm… Ooh, lala! The sauce turned out great using the grinding method; it put the fish curry to shame. First, prepare the marinate in advance. Here’s a Malaysian recipe for the marinate:
4 chicken legs and thighs or 4 chicken breasts (deboned)
1 teaspoon of coriander powder
2 stalks lemon grass
6 shallots (peeled)
2 cloves garlic (peeled)
4 tablespoons of cooking oil
1 teaspoon of chili powder
2 teaspoons of turmeric powder (kunyit)
4 teaspoons of Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce; you can easily get the Indomie brand at a local Chinese grocer)
1 spoon of Oyster Sauce
Bamboo skewers (soaked in water for 2 hours to avoid burning)
1 cucumber (skin peeled and cut into small pieces)
Cut the chicken meat into small cubes. Grind the Spice Paste in a food processor. Add in a little water if needed. Marinate the chicken pieces with the spice paste for 10-12 hours. Thread the meat on to bamboo skewers and grill for 2-3 minutes each side. Serve hot with fresh cucumber pieces.
4 TBSP Vegetable Oil
1 stalk Lemon grass, sliced and crushed
1 Medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp Belacan (dried shrimp paste) TIP: This is usually in the Southeast Asian aisle
1 1/2 tsp Tamarind
1/2 or 1 chilli, de-seeded if too much spicy heat is undesirable
1 TBSP Curry powder (or curry paste)
1 TBSP Palm sugar
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup roasted peanuts
- Grind/blend lemon-grass, onion, garlic, chilli, belacan to a paste; add cooking oil.
- If blending peanuts after paste, make sure blender is scraped clean. Then, add peanuts and crush finely in the mortar.
- Add tamarind
- Pour the coconut milk into a medium hot pan and bring to the boil.
Coconut Pandan Rice
1/4 cup Coconut Milk
1 1/4 cup Water
1 cup Basmati Rice; brown rice or other kinds can be substituted but it won’t have the same texture
2 tsp tumeric
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 pandan leaf
- Rinse the rice with water; give it a good scrub with your hand. Dump the water; You can save the water to water your plants.
- Add tumeric, cinnamon, salt and stir the rice.
- Add coconut milk, water and pandan leaf.
- Follow instructions on rice package for cooking rice on stove; rice cooker would be your best friend.
Now, if anyone knows of a great recipe to make martabak, roti canai or roti prata, please drop a comment here! Martabak… now, I wish I had Teh Tarik to go with my dinner. Ginger beer was probably a good call, with all the spicy goodness. It is such a comfort food when temperatures are falling below zero. Perhaps, I could make sauces from scratch in batches and freeze them. Tomorrow, it would be herbed Swordfish steaks from Billingsgate and Farmer’s Market fresh pasta. Good food, good company.