1.5 kgfish head, preferably snapper60 ml (¼ cup) vegetable oil¼ tsp black mustard seeds50curry leaves (see note)¼ tsp fenugreek seeds1 stalklemon grass, outer leaves removed, white part only, bruised 1star anise30 gm (¼ cup) Malaysian fish curry powder (see note)2½ tbsp tamarind pulp, soaked in 2 cups of warm water500 ml (2 cups) light coconut milk5small okra2Japanese eggplants, cut into wedges1vine-ripened tomato, cut into wedgesSpice paste5dried long red chillies, soaked in boiling water until soft, drained2fresh long red chillies, seeds removed and coarsely chopped5red shallots, thinly sliced3 clovesgarlic2 cm pieceturmeric, thinly sliced2 cm piecegalangal, coarsely chopped5 cm pieceginger, coarsely chopped1 stalklemongrass, thinly sliced
Rinse fish head in cold water, season with 1 tsp of salt, stand for 20 minutes and wash off salt just before cooking.
For spice paste, process ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
Heat oil in a large wok or pan over medium-high heat and fry mustard seeds until they pop, add curry leaves and fenugreek seeds, stir for a few seconds, then add spice paste, lemongrass and star anise. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes or until fragrant and oil separates. Add curry powder and stir for another 2 minutes. Strain tamarind mixture into pan, discarding solids, add coconut milk and bring to the boil, stirring continuously.
Place fish head into sauce, reduce heat to low and gently simmer for 8-10 minutes or until fish is almost cooked. Add okra and eggplant, then simmer for another 3-5 minutes or until soft. Season to taste with white sugar and salt, add tomato and serve immediately with rice passed separately.
Note Use fresh not dried curry leaves. Dried leaves don't have
the distinctive fragrance that is essential to the dish. Available
from select green grocers and supermarkets. Fish curry powder is
made with coriander, fennel, fenugreek and cumin seeds, black
peppercorns, turmeric powder and roasted dried chillies. Alagappa's
and Cap Burong Nuri are the best. Available from Asian food
One of the most recognised Malaysian dishes, it's thought to
have been created by a Southern Indian cook in the 50s in
Singapore. Although many find the idea of eating fish heads
confronting, the tender cheeks are quite irresistible and you'll
adore the flavours of the curry leaves mingled with lemongrass.
Fish fillet works well, too.