Taken from Makan: Recipes from the Heart of Singapore by Elizabeth Haigh (Bloomsbury Absolute, £26)
This is a classic Nonya dish, traditionally made with fish steaks. It has lots of gravy with hot and sour notes, so you need a fish that can stand up to this. In Singapore we would ask our local wet market man to cut a couple of steaks from a large Spanish mackerel, but there is an array of other amazing fish that you could use. It doesn't matter whether it's a white or oily fish, as long as it can hold its shape. For white fish, go for hake (not cod as it is too flaky) or use whole sea bream, slashed twice on each side to allow the juices to penetrate. Whole mackerel (UK-sized) or salmon steaks work well too.
Torch ginger flower is a common ingredient in Nonya cuisine because it gives dishes a distinctive sour flavour. The leaf can be used in the same way as turmeric leaf. The fruit is also edible. Inside the individual pods that make up the fruit are pulp-coated seeds – like passion fruit pulp – which explode in the mouth. It's very difficult to find torch ginger in the UK, so I recommend replacing it with laksa leaves.
- 4tbs cooking oil
- 3 aubergines, cut into 2cm chunks
- 5 sprigs of laksa leaves (or torch ginger flower buds)
- 4 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 quantity tamarind juice (see below)
- 8 okra, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 medium-sized tomato, cut into bite-sized pieces
- Caster sugar, to taste
- 1.2kg-1.5kg sea bream or mackerel
For the tamarind juice
- 3tbs (45g) tamarind pulp
- 500ml freshly boiled water
Add the tamarind pulp to the boiled water and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Strain the juice into a bowl, using the back of a spoon or ladle to press the juice through the sieve. Don't forget to scrape the underside of the sieve to remove any sieved paste there and add it to the bowl. The tamarind juice will keep in the fridge for five days.
For the rempah
- 2 candlenuts or macadamia nuts
- A 3cm piece of fresh galangal, peeled
- 2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves removed and stalks roughly chopped
- 4 banana shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 20 dried, medium-hot red chillies
- 10g belachan (fermented shrimp paste)
Grind all the rempah ingredients together in a blender (adding them in the order listed) to make a paste. If the paste becomes too thick, add a little water. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok over a medium heat then quickly fry the aubergine until golden brown all over. Remove the aubergine pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate covered in kitchen paper.
Keeping the pan on the heat, next sauté the rempah in the oil, stirring constantly, until a richly coloured oil starts to seep from it – about 10 minutes. Add the laksa and lime leaves, and continue to sauté for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.
Add the tamarind juice and bring to the boil. Add the fried aubergines, okra and tomato. Add sugar and salt to taste.
Lay the fish in the sauce and simmer for 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked.
Remove the laksa stalks, pull off the leaves and tear the leaves roughly into pieces. Sprinkle onto the gravy. Serve with steamed white rice.
Photography by Kris Kirkham
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