DESPERATE for another fish dish, I found a recipe in Mauritius, of all places.
"Picture provided by SPH"
I had been on a recce for a food tour that I had led but had not expected any culinary discoveries from the country until I ate fish vindaille, their take on fish vindaloo.
Unlike the original version, which is fiery and hot, this one is spiced with vinegar, two kinds of mustard and turmeric, and is eaten… cold.
Despite the spices, the fish is exquisite and refreshing especially after a sweltering day out. Eating it, I finally understood what the island cuisine was about.
It was yet another Eurasian food heritage like the one we know in Singapore and that of the Macanese’ in Macau. And no wonder, for the verdant and beautiful Indian Ocean island had been colonized by the Europeans - the Portuguese, French and the English.
And so the influences were unmistakable. In vindaille, one could spot it in the French name, the use of mustard in the recipe and the chilled serving of the dish.
And yet Mauritian food was firmly Indian at heart with its curries and chutneys. But it was the fish vindaille that caught my attention because of my resolution to eat fish, touted the healthy protein, three times a week.
This one used fish steaks, was spiced and yet was mild enough to eat without rice, now that I am cutting down on carbohydrates.
It also did not rely on coconut for creaminess. Rather this came from the addition of onions, ginger and garlic. Mustard and vinegar gingered up the dish as did the fresh green chillis and onions that finally topped it.
The choice of fish is important. You want a relatively boneless smooth textured fish that is richly flavoured, such as ikan kurau (threadfin), batang (mackerel) or cod.
I blended the spices first with water in a blender to obtain a sauce as smooth as the best of the French’s, and the green chilli hits the spot for Asian palates, never mind the European influences.
Fish vindaille (For 4-5)
- 500 gm threadfin, batang or cod, cut into steaks, small bones removed
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tsp. bottled grain mustard
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 2 onions
- 2-3 green chillis
- 1 thumb-sized knob of ginger
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 1 Tbsp. turmeric powder
- Green chilli
- slit lengthwise
- and fresh onion rings
- To make the spice paste, blend onions, chili, ginger and garlic in the blender or chopper with a cup of water or so. Add turmeric and mustard powders.
- Rub some salt and pepper over the fish steaks. Heat 1Tbs. of oil in a pan and fry fish till lightly browned on all sides. Remove and drain.
- Heat another tablespoon of oil in the pan and brown the spice paste till the aroma rises. Add the grain mustard and the vinegar and cook gently for 15 minutes or so till the flavours amalgamate. Add more water if the sauce seems too thick.
- Return the fish steaks to the pan. Season sauce with sugar, if needed, salt and pepper to taste. Cook gently for 15 minutes.
- Remove and refrigerate covered. Serve cold garnished with fresh green chillies and onion rings.