Times were hard when I was a student. Not like today. We enjoyed unheard of things like housing benefit and free tuition fees in those pre-Clegg nut times, but they were still hard. And, of course, any money you managed to save on optional extras like food and heating meant the more you could splash out on subsidised booze - in my case strong lager with vodka, lime and soda “greenies”.
One way to do this was to make a communal pot of tinned tuna curry most nights - which was absolutely delicious, if a little repetitive. But not repetitive enough obviously for one of the blokes who shared our house. I shared a flat with him briefly 20 years later, and he still made tuna curry every night when he got home from work. He was a strange chap, but they say the habits you learn at university stay with you the rest of your life.
Anyway, this recipe is based on that tuna curry recipe slightly, but I’ve tinkered with it over the years. I got ideas from an Indian friend whose mother used to make delicious curries and claimed the best ones were made from tinned pilchards.
It’s also got influences from a dish that I got addicted to while living in Cambodia - char trey cor compong (fried tinned fish) - the recipe is here if you want to try it. So this is a hybrid of Brightonian, Indian and Cambodian cooking, and it really is worth trying especially if you’re counting the pennies, or just want something spicy and healthy to see you through these dark, cold nights.
It uses curry leaves, and I find the best thing to do with these is to buy a big bag of fresh ones from an Asian supermarket and then freeze them and use a handful as you will - they defrost in seconds in a hot pan. The dried ones aren’t worth bothering with. Anyway, I hope you like it...
2 large onions
2 medium potatoes
Knob of butter
6 garlic cloves
12 curry leaves
2 cups of water or more
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsps of extra hot chilli powder
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 x 155g tins of pilchards in tomato sauce
4 level tsps fish sauce
1 level tsp sugar
1 red chilli
Chop the onions fairly finely, then peel the potatoes and cut each one into eight cubes. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the onions and brown slightly for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Then add the potatoes and stir well.
Fry for another five minutes over a low heat, stirring from time to time. Then finely dice the garlic and add to the pan with the curry leaves. Fry for a couple of minutes, then add the cumin seeds, garam masala, turmeric and chilli powder. Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time to stop the mixture sticking to the bottom and burning.
Add a cup of water and the tomato puree and stir well. Allow to simmer gently over a low heat, stirring from time to time, and adding another splash or two of water as the liquid evaporates - remember this is a fairly dry curry, so don’t swamp it.
Continue cooking for another 20 minutes or so, then test one of the potato chunks to see if they’re cooked. If not, add more splashes of water and continue cooking until they’re done. Add fish sauce and sugar and stir well.
Then add the first tin of pilchards, including the juice, and mash slightly with a spoon. Stir well and simmer for a minute, then add the second tin, but this time just break the fish in half and stir gently to ensure they don’t break up. Add a little water to each tin to get the remaining juices out. Simmer gently for another minute until the second tin of pilchards is just warmed through, then serve with sliced fresh chillies and sticky rice.