This recipe for pan-fried fish in a sauce rich with coconut milk cuts no corners. A fragrant homemade curry paste makes all the difference

Cheetie Kumar
opened Garland in Raleigh, N.C., she operated on a shoestring to transform an old pizza parlor, tiling portions of the floor herself with actual pennies. Over the years, shes evolved as a chef. Im more disciplined now, she said. When I make a dish, I focus on a single point and work to convey it clearly.In this curried red snapper, her first Slow Food Fast recipe, the focus is the South-Indian-style curry sauce. Using a store-bought curry paste is not an option.
Ms. Kumars curry paste combines shallots, ginger, coriander and turmeric. When youre ready to make the sauce, have the onions, fennel, spices and coconut milk measured out and ready; youll have to move fast. The spices go from browned to burnt in an instant, Ms. Kumar cautioned. You wont regret starting this sauce from scratch. Served over pan-fried fish, it has a vivid flavor no jar could provide.
TOTAL TIME: 25 minutes SERVES: 4
2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 medium shallots, roughly chopped
½ Thai or Serrano chile, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander seeds
2 teaspoons freshly grated turmeric or ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
Pinch cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
8 tablespoons grapeseed oil
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
12 fresh curry leaves
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
½ bulb fennel, thinly sliced
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup water
2 teaspoons fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch white sugar
4 red snapper or bass fillets (about ½ pounds total)
Fresh cilantro, to garnish
1. Make the curry paste: In a blender, purée garlic, ginger, shallots, chile, coriander, turmeric and cayenne. Season with salt.
2. Make the sauce: In a medium pot, heat half the oil over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves. When leaves are bright green and seeds begin to pop, after 30 seconds, stir in onions and fennel. Lower heat to medium and saute until onions are translucent, 3 minutes. Stir in curry paste and lower heat to medium-low. Cook until aromatic, 3 minutes. Add coconut milk, water and fish sauce, and stir to combine. Simmer until flavors meld and curry thickens, 10 minutes. Season with lime juice, sugar and salt to taste.
3. Season fish all over with salt. Set a large pan over medium-high heat and add remaining oil. Once hot, lay in fillets, skin-side down, and sear until skin crisps, 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and flip fish to just cook through, 1 minute more. Distribute fillets among 4 plates, ladle warm curry sauce over and top with cilantro. Serve with rice. A crunchy salad makes a nice accompaniment.
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