A piece of freshly cooked fish without a squeeze of lemon is a serious crime against the laws of cooking. Well, at least in my book. The freshness and vibrant acidity simply lift the tender, white flesh into a punchier domain and distil its flavour.
Tomatoes, with a sweeter and milder kind of acidity, can do something similar. Yet they also bring an earthiness with them, an echo of the flavour of the soil. This is why tomato sauces – a whole range of them, varying from each other immensely depending on where in the world they are cooked – work so well with fish. They seem to marry the essences of the land and sea into something new and wholly delicious, highlighted by a hit of much-needed acidity.
Spicy tomato and tamarind rasam with rainbow trout (above)
The rasam broth is so bold and intense that a simple, seared fish is all you really want with it. Make this dish your own by using any fish or seafood available to you, or make it vegan by adding some cooked vegetables instead of fish (aubergine or potato would work well here). Serve on its own or with steamed white or brown rice.
Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr
4 sustainably sourced rainbow trout fillets (520g), skin-on (try to use middle cut pieces, not tail cuts for this)
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tbsp coriander, roughly chopped
For the tamarind rasam
50g tamarind block (the wet Thai variety)
30g ginger, skin left on and thinly sliced
15g fresh turmeric, skin-on, and thinly sliced
1 green chilli, roughly sliced, seeds and all (20g)
For the sauce
250g cherry tomatoes
2½ tbsp sunflower oil
½ lemon, halved lengthways, cut into ¼cm-thick half-moons, seeds removed
1½ tsp cumin seeds, finely crushed in a mortar
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 dried red chillies (the finger-length variety)
2 stems curry leaves (about 20 leaves)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3-4 plum tomatoes (300g), coarsely grated and skins discarded (250g)
2 tsp caster sugar
Make the rasam: put the tamarind, ginger, turmeric, green chilli, 1.2 litres of water and a teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan and put on a medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring to break apart the tamarind pulp. Strain through a sieve into a large bowl, pressing to extract as much flavour as possible. Discard the solids.
Toss the tomatoes in one and a half teaspoons of oil, and put a large saute pan on a high heat. Once smoking, add the tomatoes, and cook, tossing occasionally, until charred and blistered – about five minutes – then set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium-high, add the lemons and cook until charred, about a minute per side, then set aside. Let the pan cool slightly then, on a medium-high heat, add the remaining two tablespoons of oil to the pan along with the cumin and mustard seeds, dried chillies, curry leaves and garlic, and cook for one minute, until fragrant. Add the grated tomatoes and cook for five minutes more, then add the sugar, tamarind liquid, charred tomatoes and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring back up to a boil and simmer for eight minutes on a medium heat.
While the sauce is simmering, season the fillets all over with a half-teaspoon of salt. Put a large, nonstick frying pan on a medium-high heat with a tablespoon of oil. Once hot, lay in the trout, skin-side down, and cook for five minutes, or until the skin is golden and crispy. With a spatula, gently transfer the trout fillets to the sauce, skin-side up. Leave to cook on a medium heat for about four minutes, until just pink in the centre (or longer if you like yours more cooked).
To serve, transfer the trout, skin-side up, to four shallow bowls. Pour the rasam all around and add the lemons. Sprinkle with the coriander and serve.
Fish kofta in ancho chilli and tomato sauce
There’s a bit of kick here, so if you’re not into heat, then leave out the green chillies in the sauce and in the kofta. Alternatively, some Greek yoghurt and plain rice will balance it all out. Get ahead by making the sauce in advance; its flavours will only intensify as it sits in the fridge overnight.
Prep 30 min
Cook 1 hr 10 min
For the kofta
500g firm white fish (such as cod), boned and skinned
4 spring onions, finely chopped (60g net weight)
10g dill, roughly chopped, plus extra picked leaves to serve
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1½ tsp lemon zest
1 egg, beaten
30g panko breadcrumbs
3 tbsp olive oil
For the tomato sauce
15g dried ancho chilli (about 1½ chillies), stem removed
2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped (150g)
60ml olive oil
1 green chilli, halved lengthways
1 tbsp tomato paste
3-4 plum tomatoes (400g), roughly grated and skins discarded (300g net weight)
300ml chicken or vegetable stock
2 tsp caster sugar
25g coriander, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper
First, make the sauce. Put the ancho chilli in a small bowl, cover with plenty of boiling water, and leave to soften for 20 minutes. Drain, discard the liquid, roughly chop the chilli then put in a food processor with two-thirds of the caraway and cumin, all the garlic, onion and two tablespoons of oil, and blitz into a coarse paste.
Add the remaining two tablespoons of oil to a large saute pan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, add the ancho sauce, green chilli and tomato paste and cook for seven minutes, stirring often, until softened and fragrant. Add the grated tomatoes, stock, 200ml water, sugar, half the coriander, one and a quarter teaspoons of salt and a good grind of pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes. Keep warm on a low heat until needed.
Meanwhile, make the kofta. Chop the fish by hand into roughly ½-1cm pieces. Put in a large bowl with the spring onion, dill, chilli, lemon zest, egg, panko, remaining coriander, caraway and cumin, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and mix well to combine. Form into 12 round fish cakes, roughly 6-7cm in diameter and about 55g in size. Make sure you press and compact them well, so they stay together when frying.
Add one and a half-tablespoons of oil to a large frying pan on a medium-high heat. Add half the kofta and fry for five minutes, flipping halfway, until deeply golden on both sides. Transfer to a plate, then repeat with the remaining oil and kofta.
Bring the sauce back to a simmer on a medium-high heat. Add the kofta, turn the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside for about five minutes, top with the extra dill leaves and serve directly from the pan.
Cajun prawns, creamy tomato sauce and cheesy polenta
This is a take on the famous southern US shrimp and grits. If you buy the prawns with their shells and heads on, use those to make your own shellfish stock. You can get ahead by making the sauce well in advance, but don’t cook the prawns and polenta until you’re ready to serve.
Prep 30 min
Cook 50 min
75ml olive oil
150g smoked cooking chorizo, casings discarded and roughly crumbled into 1½cm pieces
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped into 1cm cubes (120g net weight)
1 green pepper, chopped into roughly 2½cm cubes
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 tsp Cajun spice mix
1 tin plum tomatoes, roughly crushed (400g)
1½ tsp caster sugar
Salt and black pepper
60ml double cream
10g chives, chopped into 1½cm lengths, plus extra chopped to serve
350g extra-large king prawns (peeled and de-veined)
For the polenta
500ml shellfish stock
350ml whole milk
60g unsalted butter, cut into roughly 2cm cubes
200g quick-cook polenta
120g gruyere, roughly grated
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan on a medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chorizo and paprika, and cook for about three minutes, or until browned and beginning to crisp up. Drain the chorizo oil through a sieve into a small bowl, set the chorizo (and its oil) aside and return the pan to the heat with another two tablespoons of oil.
Add the onion and celery, and cook until softened and lightly coloured – about five minutes. Add the pepper, garlic and three teaspoons of Cajun spice and cook for a minute, until fragrant.
Add the tomatoes, sugar, chorizo, 250ml water, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes, stirring now and then, until thick and rich. Stir through the cream and chives and keep warm until needed.
Pat the prawns dry, toss in a medium bowl with the remaining teaspoon of Cajun spice, a third of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and set aside while you make the polenta.
Add the stock, milk, butter, 200ml water, one and a quarter-teaspoons of salt and a good grind of pepper to a medium saucepan on a medium-high heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, turn the heat to medium and slowly add the polenta, whisking continuously until completely mixed in. Continue whisking for about three minutes, or until the polenta is cooked but the mixture is still loose. Whisk in the gruyere and set aside.
Add one and a half teaspoons of oil to a large saute pan on a high heat. Once smoking, add half of the prawns and cook for about three minutes, turning halfway, until browned and cooked through. Transfer to the tomato sauce, add the remaining one and a half teaspoons of oil and repeat with the remaining prawns.
Divide the polenta between four plates. Top with the prawns and tomato sauce, then sprinkle with the extra chives. Drizzle with the reserved chorizo oil and serve at once.