The anticipation of Christmas Eve, especially if you have children, is one of my favourite things about this time of year. But it can be exhausting getting to this point, with so much still to prepare. Ideally, you’ll have something sustaining to pull out of the oven when the children are tucked up in bed tomorrow night, because you’ll need all the sustenance you can get to help you through the last-minute present wrapping.
We rarely get a white Christmas, but it’s usually frosty outside, so instinct demands food that’s warming and comforting. Fish is an obvious answer, being both light (ahead of the day of feasting) and familiar. Rice, too, because it’s so forgiving (see also Meera’s vegan pilau). This year, I wanted a break from our usual kedgeree, so have been experimenting with new flavours, inspired by a trip to Kerala a few years ago. Being so dependent on fish and vegetables, the cooking there is remarkably light, yet boldly flavoured, and one brick-red fish and coconut curry in particular caught my attention. This is my version of it: the spices work together to give soft, mellow notes and a signature russet colour that rivals even the most enthusiastic Father Christmas (who may well prefer it to mince pies).
You can prepare everything a day ahead, then pop it in the oven half an hour before eating. Serves six.
Juice of ½ lime
½ tsp turmeric
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g skinless, sustainably caught cod fillet (or other firm white fish)
400g basmati rice, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
½-thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
400g fresh plum tomatoes
1 green chilli, deseeded
¼ tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp freshly ground coriander seed
¼ tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
400ml coconut milk
Coriander and mint leaves, to serve
In a bowl, mix the lime juice, turmeric and half a teaspoon of salt, smear this all over the fish and leave to marinate for 30 minutes. After that, wash off the marinade and store the fish in the fridge.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Put the rice, bay and cinnamon in a pan with a pinch of salt, cover with boiling water and boil for four minutes, until al dente. Drain, return to the pan, cover and leave to steam while you get on with the next stage.
Warm the oil in a large pan on a low heat and start frying the onions, stirring occasionally. With the onions on the go, put the ginger, garlic, tomatoes and chilli in a food processor and blitz until finely chopped. Once the onions have been frying for five to eight minutes and have softened nicely, turn up the heat to medium-high and add the mustard and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds begin to pop, add the ginger and garlic mix, and fry until lightly coloured. Add the coriander, chilli powder and garam masala, stir-fry for a minute, then add the coconut milk. Once the mix is simmering, add the rinsed fish to the pot, making sure it’s just submerged, and cook gently for five minutes. Once the fish is just cooked through, take the pan off the heat.
Spread half the fish and its sauce in a deep baking dish, and spoon half the rice on top. Repeat the layers, then cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, until heated through, then leave to cool and rest for 10 minutes. Serve scattered with torn mint and coriander, and with raita and chutneys of your choice alongside.
And for the rest of the week…
For seriously good fast food over the holidays, wrap any excess curry mix in chapati or naan and top with chutney, lettuce, coriander and raita. Make double the curry base for the turkey leftovers: that would be sensational with coconut rice, and greens cooked with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Happy Christmas!
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