Fish moilee

It was the day of the cookery practical exam. We were told to revise all the recipes we had learnt and warned that we might even be asked to prepare a dish that we had not done before in class. It would be a curry, to be served with plain rice. The protein and a few other ingredients would be provided by the school, but everything else would have to be brought from home.

It was a lousy morning, the sky as dark as my mood. Rushing around packing ginger, garlic, tomatoes, onions, chillies and grated coconut, wondering what I had forgotten. A hurried breakfast and finally the walk to school.

In the cookery kitchen, I found all my classmates also with long faces. We had all been hoping that we would be tested on cakes or biscuits or even curry puffs so the announcement that we had to make a curry was a huge disappointment. On the teacher's table, there were plates of sliced fish, a few sauces and curry powder.

Five minutes before the start of the exam, we were told to come up and collect our plates. All of us had 4 slices of tenggiri (seer fish). I arranged my ingredients on my table just as the bell rang to indicate the start of the exam.

We had been taught to make a beef ball curry in school but a fish curry? Mum wouldn't even let me stir a pot of fish curry, saying I would probably break up all the pieces and here I had to make a curry and ensure that the pieces remained whole when I was through. Suddenly, I could see the dark clouds moving away and the sun shining through. Fish moilee! Had seen Mum make it countless times and it seemed simple enough. The recipe was also in my cookery book and frantically I tried to remember the ingredients and the method.

Shallow fried fish

Mum's recipe asked for the fish to be shallow fried so I sprinkled turmeric powder, salt and pepper over the fish. I still remember I used too much turmeric, the fish was almost orange in colour. In the meantime, the onions, ginger, garlic, chillies and tomato were sliced. Thick and thin coconut milk extracted, the fish shallow fried.

In the remaining oil, the sliced onions, ginger, garlic, chillies were lightly sauteed, thin coconut  milk added and then the fish was gently placed into the gravy. Sliced tomatoes went in, salt and vinegar and then the thick coconut milk. Shaking the pan, as Mum had instructed, ensured the fish did not break. And finally, tasting it. Divine! I carefully ladled it into the serving bowl and that was when I realised that I had forgotten to bring rice!!

Fortunately, my benchmate had a little extra and that saved the day. Oh and I did pass with good marks.

Fish moilee (not my school recipe!!)

1/2 kg seer fish slices
Salt, pepper and turmeric powder
1 large onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, julienned
1" piece ginger, julienned
4-5 green chillies, slit
1 stalk curry leaves
1 large tomato, cut in wedges( optional)
1 cup thin coconut milk
1/2 cup thick coconut milk (I used canned coconut milk)

Sprinkle salt, pepper and a little turmeric powder over the fish slices.
Mix gently to coat, then shallow fry in a frying pan after 30 minutes.
Place the fish on kitchen towel to absorb excess oil.
Pour out all but 3 tablespoons of the oil, saute onion, garlic, ginger and green chillies till transparent.
Add in thin coconut milk (or 1/2 a can coconut milk and 1/2 cup water), bring to a boil.
Also add in tomatoes and when it starts to boil, gently put in the fish in a single layer.
Shake the pan around to mix the ingredients, allow it to simmer for about 5-7 minutes.
Add in about a teaspoon or so of vinegar, check seasoning then pour the thick coconut milk.
Shake the pan again to mix and just before it comes back to a boil, remove the pan from the heat.
Don't let it boil as the coconut milk will split.
Excellent with bread.


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