Fish for Friday

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Time  was when people always ate fish on Fridays. For Catholics, at least, it was a religious custom.  We eat seafood more often than that. I’ve adapted three recipe below from  one in the book Asia’s Undiscovered Cuisine by Rosemary Bressendom. I am indebted to my sister-in-law Jean Hall for turning me on to Malay recipes. Jean and her husband Dick were  missionaries in Sarawak  (SahRAHwahk), a Malay province on the north side of the island of Borneo. My husband and I  and three of our four children (Suzanna, our oldest, was in college in Hawaii at the time)  were with the US Air Force at Naha, Okinawa, located at 26 degrees north. We visited  the Hall family in Kuching, right on the equator, 0 degrees north. Not realizing that the sun on its way from it’s southernmost declension to its northernmost delension would be passing directly overhead at Kuching at that time, we flew down down there one April.

The Halls took us downriver to Santabong. They had reserved Sir Raja Brook’s old house, plenty big enough for all ten of us. (Now it’s been replaced by a tourist hotel.) Jean spent hours, it seemed, grating the contents of a few coconuts and squeezing the juice out of them to make  “santan” enough for a dish to serve our blended group 10 people.  Looking back, I feel  I should have helped Jean instead of drawing a picture of a Malay boy and painting a watercolor of the red-brown hump-shouldered cow the boy was herding.  Still, I’m glad to have the watercolor painting of the cow grazing under the rose apple tree to remind me of that wonderful vacation.

If I had to make my own coconut juice by forcing my way into  a coconut, grating, pouring hot water on the gratings  and squeezing to make “santan”,  I would not make, nor recommend that you make, the delicious dish below. We can just buy a can of coconut juice at the supermarket. This makes the Malaysian fish curry recipe below super easy.  All the Malay words for ingredients are in now plain English.

Malay Ikan Moolie
Malay Fish in Coconut Sauce
4 servings

1 pound boneless fish like sole, tilapia, or cod cut into approximately 1-inch squares
2 small red chillies, or red pepper flakes to taste
6 thin slices of ginger root, minced
1 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, diced (optional)
3 Tablespoons coconut oil
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with
2 Tablespoons water
1 cup frozen peas
1 teaspoon salt

Stir-fry the  chillies, ginger, onion and turmeric in the coconut oil until the onion is transparent, about 10 minutes. Add the coconut juice. (If using hot red pepper flakes instead of chillies, add the flakes now.)  Heat to simmering. Add the peas.  Cook 5 minutes. Add fish. Cook until  fish is opaque and flakes easily. Mix the cornstarch and water. Stir them into the pan. Keep stirring until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.  Add salt. Stir. Taste. Add more salt or a pinch if cayenne if more spiciness desired. Serve over cooked rice.