August 08, 2009

Burmese Fish Curry

Happy birthday, mom !!! Today's my mother's 54th birthday. I rang her early morning and she told me that they were having porridge - our family's favorite. For me, lunch was Burmese Fish Curry and rice. I cooked it also for my senior, whom I am to visit tomorrow as tomorrow is Singapore's birthday, a holiday. I'll share how I cooked my version - derived from Rangoon (aka Yangon) version - of Burmese Fish Curry.
To know and master Burmese Fish Curry, one must understand how Burmese perceive fish. In their eyes, fish is a healthy and delicious but smelly food. Therefore, their cooking style reflects that belief and choice of ingredients aim either to preserve the nutrition value and taste of food or to kill the nasty smell (or both). Here's the list of ingredients (for a meal for 3-4 person) :
  • Fish - 400 - 500 g (any fish is ok, however, I prefer boneless fillet sold for sushi as it is safe for my throat.)
  • Garlic - 4 - 5 cloves
  • Ginger - a medium-sized piece
  • Onion - 2 -3 (depending on the size)
  • Tumeric powder (Haldi) - 1 - 2 tea spoon
  • Salt - 2 tea spoon
  • Chili powder - 3/4tea spoon (if you don't like, leave it)
  • Green chili - 2 -3 (if you don't like, leave it)
  • Chinese Parsley - some
As you may notice, the function of the onion is to enhance the taste and that of Chinese Parsley is to kill the smell whereas ginger serves both. All other ingredients serve the similar functions. Talking about Chinese Parsley, I noticed a strange thing. In Burmese, Chinese Parsley is called "Nan Nan". However, Parsley is, in turn, called "Chinese Nan Nan". Funny, is it ?

First of all, wash your fish and chop it up into 1 inch squares (not cubes, fish are thin :P). If you are thawing a freezed fish, you should try to chop it before you thaw it since it is easier to chop that way. After that, marinade the fish with a tea-spoon of salt and half-a-tea-spoon tumeric powder (if you like its smell, you can put a full tea-spoon of tumeric powder). Tumeric powder will reduce the smell of the fish - especially after frying in next step. It doesn't add much taste.

Then, peal the garlic cloves and onions off. Slice the onion into thin slices. If you are fancy with your knife-skills, you can chop them into small pieces. Or if you have right equipments, you can pound them up. Peal and cut the ginger into small pieces and hammer it down (using your knife handle or similar equipment.) Doing so help the juice in ginger to come out when you finally cook it. That ginger juice, again, is to reduce the smell of the fish. Smash your green chili, too. Those green chili will bring a lovely smell to your curry. Remember, Burmese don't like the smell of fish and all tumeric powder, ginger and green chili are to make the curry smell nice. Then heat your oil up using a deep frying pan.

When the oil starts to boil, place your fish into the pan. The main purpose of this frying nonsense is - yes, you are right - to reduce the smell of the fish. Therefore, you don't need to fry them until they are well-done. One minute is just more than enough and remove the fish (into some temporary bowl). Now pour the heated oil into a larger pot, where you might do actual cooking (for a healthy meal, pour only half the oil).
Put the garlic and, after 10 seconds, the onions. Stir them until the onion become soft. Put a tea-spoon full of chili powder (for visual appearance and, if you don't like chili, you can leave it). In Mandalay style of cooking, they also use tomatoes in this step. However, many Rangoon-style advocates - including me - feel that tomatoes would add an awkward smell to the curry. Moreover, you can't left the curry overnight if you use tomatoes. So leave them. After a short while, your curry paste will be something like this:

Now, it is time to put your half-fried fish in. Don't forget to put the fish slowly into the pot. Put your hammered-down ginger, green chili and some water, too. Stir up from time to time. Be careful as the fish are soft and tends to break apart as you stir hard - making your curry ugly. However, if you don't stir, your curry paste (made up of onion) will be over-cooked. Don't worry. By setting aside the curry-paste (onions and garlic etc) before you put your fish in, you can stir the curry paste one side leaving the fish in the other side intact. You have to cook for 15 - 30 minutes (fill more water if you need) depending on the kind of fish you use. For the sushi fillets I used, 12 - 15 minutes is enough.
Note: for those who love their microwave ovens (like me), you can switch to microwave after the first round of water is gone. Just don't forget to put a quarter cup of water into the container before you cook it in microwave. And also don't forget to use only Microwave Safe Container for safety reasons.

When the fish is done (the curry paste will also formed at that time), you need to continue cooking until the water is gone and the oil will re-emerge out of nowhere. Although Burmese people like it with a layer of oil - as thick as about half a centimeter - above their fish, you don't need to follow it closely for the sake of your health. If you don't like oil, you can use less oil (simply don't pour all the oil you used to fry the fish into your cooking pot as I mentioned before).
Shut your stove (microwave) off and, while it is still hot, cut (and wash) your Chinese Parsley and spread it above your fish. Now, it is ready to serve ! Yummy, isn't it ?

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Since August 1st, 2009, Law Shay had enjoyed his lunch together with friends.