Cod cheeks in Goan curry

Goan cod cheek curry on rice. With an artfully placed bit of cavolo nero !
Goan cod cheek curry on rice. With an artfully placed bit of cavolo nero !

5 delicious weeks of polenta, risotto, meat, cream, butter, nary a green chili in sight…I finally lost it today, and resolved to spice up my cuisine. The fishmongers had some cod cheeks, fantastic at £2.68 for 200g (a big one-person portion), and a lot easier to prepare than monkfish cheeks (which have a tricky little membrane that needs removing).

Fish curries are splendid – they bring all the flavours of India together, particularly the lovely south, but with a lot less frying or grease than anything on Brick Lane, or almost any other restaurant. They evoke the exotic Orient, make your nose run, make you sweat out those mid-January bugblues, and long for a warm beach, surf, and Tevas.

This recipe is taken from, but adjusted to my taste (I don’t love coconut milk, but do like tamarind), a Guardian article on fish curries, sort of a taxonomy of the recipe:

Sized for 600g of fish

Marinade: (Optional) marinate your fish in a little yoghurt, turmeric, powdered red chili, and lime. I find this makes sense for fish like cod cheeks, which are somewhat flavourless.

Masala base:

Chuck 1tsp cloves, 1tbsp coriander seeds, 1tsp cumin seeds, 8 dried chilis, 2 star anise into a dry pan and toast them until aromatic. Pulverise in a food processor or (as in India) use a grinding stone/mortar & pestle. The latter is more fun, but make sure you get a powder – star anise hulls will send you to the dentist.

Mix the powdered spices with ½ tsp turmeric, 1tbsp palm sugar, 1tsp salt, 5 garlic cloves (crushed), 3cm ginger root (grated), 1.5tbps white vinegar. Set this paste aside.

Make the sauce:

Fry 1 onion, finely chopped, in olive oil over medium heat, until soft/golden (not burnt), then throw in masala paste. Stir constantly, until you get the lovely scent – don’t let anything burn. Put in 1 large grated tomato (I used yesterday’s leftover tomato sauce studded with mushrooms because “fresh” Dutch hothouse tomatoes are shite….this is a pretty forgiving recipe). Cook until most of liquid is gone.

Put in 1-2 teacups of water, some grated coconut (or coconut milk), a couple of fresh green chilis, slit lengthwise, and simmer for 10 minutes or until sauce has thickened a bit. I put in a little tamarind pulp (can get this at many Asian groceries), which I soak a few minutes ahead of time in hot water, and remove the pits from (again, tamarind pits = dentist). If there’s too much sauce, then reduce; conversely if too little, add a little water.

Put in the cod cheeks and cook for a few minutes until done.

Make the tadka:

Heat up some oil (probably veg oil is better than OO, due to higher burn point), put in ½ tsp mustard seeds, and 10 curry leaves, and fry until the seeds pop. Drop oil, seeds & leaves into the curry.

Boil rice & serve the whole lot with limes and coriander leaves


Should be very spicy, doubt much will go – but could try a Riesling or Pinot Noir. Gamay might work. Beer is indicated, maybe a floral weissbier.