You read that right. Tinned fish curry. Tinned fish? With curry? What on earth is that you ask? Only the most delicious curry you have never heard of. Probably in the entire planet. Maybe even the universe. Ok ok. So maybe not that extra. But it comes pretty damn close. Tinned fish curry is something all of us have grown up with in Fiji. It is a classic. And one of my dad's absolute favorite curries. It is an extremely humble dish. Cheap, quick and tasty. Almost everyone had tinned fish sitting at home in Fiji. It is a quick weeknight dish to make or when unexpected guests drop by. Which I would like to add. Almost all guests were unexpected. Not everyone had a phone back in the day and if you wanted to visit someone, you just popped into a bus and rode to whoever you felt like visiting that day. If you had a car, then you just drove to someone's house and just casually dropped by. Just like that. Without. Texting. First. Seems a bit unthinkable now. I was just talking about this with my mum. People just dropped by and you had to be ready to entertain. So if there was no meat in the house that day or you couldn’t send someone to quickly pick something up at the corner shop down the road, then tinned fish was one of the curries to make. Also, many folks didn’t have electricity back in the day so they couldn’t store meats and seafood anyways. Tinned fish and tinned meats were very convenient and useful as a result. Writing this blog is bringing up so many old memories. It is hard to imagine that we had a life before the interconnectedness of the internet and smart phones. How did we even live like that? Was a simpler life and simpler times perhaps. Anyways, this curry used to be one of my favorites too and I always looked forward to lunch at school when mum packed this for me. I do believe my high school canteen sold some variation of tinned fish curry and roti too. Was always sold out.
So in this recipe we used canned mackerel preserved in tomato sauce. There is also a version without tomato sauce. As usual, we purchased this from the Indian grocery store but mum told me that this type of canned fish is sold in American grocery stores too just under a different brand. The fish we use has to be cleaned a bit. The fish pieces are preserved whole so their bones have to be removed which is very easy. Mum always removes the darker parts of the fish. So the sides get removed a bit and there is a layer of dark meat running down the length of the fish that can be removed too. Not necessary. Then you can remove the bones. Basically, use your fingers to split the fish in half and carefully remove the bones. The bones will be softer and sometimes will break a bit and so make sure to pick those pieces out. I think the tinned fish from the American grocery store has this done already. Then you can flake the fish pieces so it looks like tuna flakes. Also easy to do with hands or a fork. Now the fish is ready to go. We add potatoes to this dish too but it can be left out. If you use the potato, make sure it is thinly sliced.
Next step is to curry-fy (if it isn't already, this is a word now) the fish. First step is to cook all the spices with onions, garlic, ginger and chilis if using.
Next add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes are fully cooked. It is important that the potatoes are fully cooked.
Next add the fish plus sauce. Add salt. Remember that the fish may already have salt in it as it was preserved. Add some lemon juice. Mix well.
The fish is preserved and does not need to cook for too long. Cook for another five minutes or so to let the fish heat through and the flavors all mix together. Turn off heat, stir in cilantro and garnish.