Fish in aromatic coconut sauce

Fish in aromatic coconut sauce

Cooking from the Heart
Mark Roper

This dish is an invention of mine, through the great influence of my parents and grandmother, who enlightened me to their Sephardic ways of cooking.


Quantity Ingredient
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
5 whole cloves
3 dried chillies
12 cm knob fresh ginger, peeled and grated
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large onions, finely diced
2.5g saffron threads
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup milk
440ml canned coconut milk
1.5kg firm-fleshed fish

Onion rings

Quantity Ingredient
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced in rings

To finish

Quantity Ingredient
green chillies, sliced, to garnish (optional)


  1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and chillies. Tilt the pan to concentrate the oil and spices and fry for about 2 minutes, or until aromatic. Be careful not to burn the spices — there should not be any fumes whatsoever.
  2. Scrape the spices to one side and spread the ginger over the pan. When the oil bubbles, reduce the heat to low and fry the ginger until it begins to caramelise and smell sweet, then move it to one side.
  3. Increase the heat to medium and sauté the garlic until it softens. Next, add the onions and saffron, stirring constantly. Continue frying and stirring constantly until the onions begin to colour, then turn the heat down so that the mixture cooks slowly and turns golden brown. Only when you get that beautiful fried (not burned) onion smell, is the mixture ready.
  4. Add the vinegar and turn up the heat to the point where the liquid has almost evaporated.
  5. Pour in the milk, gently stirring, and watch the milkiness disappear, leaving water behind — this takes less than 90 seconds.
  6. Stir in the coconut milk and boil the sauce until it thickens, then stir in 1 cup of water. Reduce the heat as low as possible and cook the sauce until it is thick, syrupy and aromatic. (If possible, use a heat diffuser to make the cooking even slower.)
  7. Meanwhile, cut the fish into chunks about 5 cm wide (smaller chunks usually fall apart).
  8. Once the sauce is cooked, add the fish, spooning the sauce over the pieces. Cook over medium–low heat until the fish is cooked through.
  9. Meanwhile, make the onion rings. Heat the vegetable oil in a small frying pan over medium heat and fry the onion rings until crisp.
  10. Garnish the dish with the onion rings and chillies, if desired.
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