Yesterday I was wondering what to make with some nice New Zealand monkfish fillets I had, and had something involving tamarind in mind. It was a hot, humid day here in Auckland – the humidity levels have often been above 80% these last few days – and I was feeling kinda tropical. I cast my mind back to an excellent dish of Tamarind Prawns we had on Koh Lanta Yai in the Krabi region of Thailand in late 2008. We were on our kind of belated, extended honeymoon for a month or so, and I was 5 months pregnant and wolfing down the local fare with gusto. (I had initally been a bit sad about travelling sans cold beers and cocktails, but the coconut shakes more than made up for it).
Anyway, I digress. So the heat and the mugginess reminded me of that night sitting over the water on Koh Lanta and inspired me to attempt a Thai fish dish with tamarind sauce. Thai tamarind sauces are amazing, they’re like the true version of the hideous (but, let’s admit it, sometimes weirdly yummy), artificial-looking ‘sweet n sour’ sauces we know from the local Chinese takeaway.
The intense tartness of tamarind marries with the warmth of palm sugar to create a beautifully balanced sweet and sour partnership. Throw in a bit of chilli and it’s a done deal. And there ain’t nothing better to carry this flavour hit than fish. I don’t know why, but as I said before, fish and tamarind are meant for each other. If anyone does know why, please let me know.
I browsed a couple of recipes online, but nothing look like what I wanted to make, so this is pretty much made up as I went.
Thai Fish with Tamarind
Serves 4, or two greedy adults with leftovers for lunch
600g monkfish fillets
1/4 cup cornflour
3Tbsp rice bran oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 Thai green chillies, finely chopped
2 handfuls fresh green beans, topped and tailed
1 handful snow peas, stalk removed
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 bunch spring onion, sliced into rounds
handful coriander, chopped
2-3 heaped Tbsp tamarind puree
2 Tbsp palm sugar
2 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp Thai fish sauce
3 Tbsp sweet soy sauce
2-3 Tbsp water
1 Cut fish into quite chunky pieces, about 3x4cm. Place flour in a large bowl. Heat oil in a large wok and add fish pieces one at a time, coating in flour first. Turn the pieces with tongs to crispen all sides. Add more oil if need be.
2 Once fish is golden on the outside, add onion, garlic, chilli and beans and stir fry.
3 Meanwhile, in a saucepan, place all ingredients for tamarind sauce. If palm sugar is in blocks, you can grate it in. Bring to a simmer then pour sauce into the stir-fying fish and vegetables and stir to combine. Once green beans are even slightly cooked, add snow peas, tomatoes, spring onions and coriander and stir. The sauce should be reasonably thick. Have a taste and see what you think. Add more of whatever you like. I added a bit more sweet soy and fish sauce. Garnish with springs of coriander and serve with freshly steamed jasmine rice.
I used monkfish, which I thought was excellent in this dish. It has a lovely firm texture and was very resistant to breaking up during cooking. If you can’t get monkfish, get whatever firm white-fleshed fish you can find. Or use any kind of seafood – prawns, squid, mussels and scallops would be great, too.
I used the vegetables we had in the garden. You can do the same, or whatever’s in season in the shops. You want vegetables that are pretty crisp and bright in colour. Red pepper would have been good here. Tomato isn’t crisp, I know, but adds a nice contrast in texture and flavour here, as in many Thai dishes.
In Thai stir-fries, onion is best kept slightly crispy.
Stir fry on as high a heat as you can without burning. It seals in the flavour and juices and prevents the dish becoming soggy.