I like my fish prepared pretty much one of three ways: dusted in a starch and fried or sautéed, in sushi, or smothered in a complex, vibrant sauce, stew or curry. In other words, I live in the midwest and never really learned to appreciate the taste of plain fish. In all seriousness, when would I have? All of my fish (that I prepare) has been flash frozen at sea before heading to the store and that is just how it is when you live completely landlocked.
But I still like to include fish in our diet. It is a healthy way to shake things up and a different way to appreciate various international cuisines. This dish is a great example of the kind of fish dish I like to play with. It is from Sri Owen’s The Indonesian Kitchen: Recipes and Stories, which is a beautiful part memoir part cookbook. The dish is actually titled “Tamarind Fish From Sulawesi,” but I decided to use lime juice instead. I also made the dish less brothy, more saucy, and used bottled clam juice in place of fish stock, as well as a myriad of other little changes. Landlocked, remember? And if you are wondering, Sulawesi is one of the larger islands in Indonesia, in fact the 11th largest island in the world according to Wiki.
I made this dish with the tomatoes I froze last summer and basil from my windowsill, but really this dish would be super perfect for the height of summer, with fresh tomatoes and “sun ripened” basil from your herb garden, not least of which because the dish is light and vibrant, perfect for a hot day. Good tomatoes are an absolute must and please do not use canned (which are fine in some dishes but not this one). John liked this dish with heaps of lemongrass, but I decided later that I prefer a more subtle touch with the lemongrass. Also, please note the return of the Makrut lime leaves! I finally replaced our tree, which sadly had died in the drought last summer while we were out of town (our well intentioned house sitter didn’t realize how bad it was until it was too late):
Those of you who remember my previous tree might note this one is a lot straighter!
- 2 lbs fish filets (I used Pacific cod)
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 1 small or ½ large red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2 T minced fresh ginger
- 1-3 t grated lemongrass, to taste (John likes it with more, I prefer less)
- 2 kaffir lime leaves, finely minced
- ⅛ t turmeric
- 1½ cups clam juice
- 3 medium sized tomatoes, peeled and chopped (I used frozen from last summer-if I were using fresh I would not bother peeling)
- 2 T finely chopped fresh basil leaves
- 3 T fresh lime juice, divided, plus more to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- Jasmine rice, for serving
- Sambal Oelek, for serving
- Heat the oil in a large nonstick (I always prefer nonstick when dealing with fish) skillet over medium heat. When it is shimmering, add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper, ginger and lemongrass and continue cooking, stirring occasionally. Cook until the veggies have softened and the onions are translucent.
- Add the kaffir lime leaves and turmeric and stir in. Then add the clam juice and the tomatoes, with a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer. Add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice.
- Add the fish in a single layer. Adjust heat to maintain a gentle but somewhat brisk (more than just the occasional bubble) simmer. Cook each side of the fish, about 8 minutes total, until it flakes apart when pressed in the center.
- Add the basil and remaining lime juice. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with Jasmine rice and Sambal Oelek for anyone who wants it hot.
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