Monday, November 07, 2005

Ole or Oily

I went for a dance recital today. And it was a real toss-up between going for this flamenco performance and staying home to complete the mountain of work I have.

In the end I went even though there was not much to compel me to go. This was an event where some people I thought I would be going with informed me at the last minute they were going without me, prompting the dancer to give me a free ticket out of guilt. And also, I had a funny feeling that it would be a waste of time. And it kind of was even though I saw a lot of old friends and other performers.

Although it featured a few good dancers, the choreography, scripting (as such) and production were fairly amaterish and plebian. I was already inclined to make this a show-face-and-bugger-off-immediately social obligation, but after watching the uneven and soul-less performances, I was even more determined to make my getaway as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I was seated right behind one of the principals who kept turning around to chat. Bugger.

I know these dancers - one of them has even taught me before. And I wondered why their performances were so uneven and uninspired this time around. It was a shame and I left the theatre underwhelmed.

So I decided to cheer myself up by going grocery shopping. It was off to Carrefour. I wanted to get the ingredients to make Farikaal, a Norwegian recipe I found on Oslo Foodie's blog. I love lamb, have not eaten it in a month or two and it looked really easy. So I thought I would give it a try. But since it requires long cooking and I was doing it on a slow cooker, I needed the makings for tonight's dinner.

I saw the most intriguing looking shellfish, labelled as "Green Mussels". It looked like no green mussels I'd ever seen. In fact, it looked like giant versions of this shellfish I think locals call tok tok (I hope that is the right spelling). Eating this shellfish should be an Olympian sports as it involves skill, determination, pain (if you rap your fingers instead of the shell on the table), grunting and grimacing. But the tiny morsels of flesh you fish out with your toothpicks is well worth the effort. Sweet and tender yet with enough bouncy texture to make it interesting, the tok tok is something I have only ever seen in the seafood restaurants.

This giant version, so-named Green Mussels, were most mysterious. I admit, I did a very female thing. I decided to buy them because they were pretty. My rationale was that I could dry them after eating and make them into incense holders. So rationalised, I bought five, although they were bloody expensive. I left muttering about my susceptibility to intriguing food and damn curiosity.

I also spotted some butterfish and decided that would do as the main dish. And just as I was leaving, I saw one of my favourite vegetables - the winged bean! I grabbed the only packet gleefully and buggered off before someone decided to fight me for it.

At home, I had no clue how I was going to cook the lot. So I just winged it. Geddit? Sorry.

I started with the "Green Mussels" as a starter - I am still convinced it was labelled incorrectly.

"Green Mussels"
5 "green mussels"
Pot of water

1. Steam the damn things for about 5 mins. That's all. If you do not know that, leave boiled eggs alone.

Butterfish Done Three Ways
3 butterfish fillets
3 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

2 large shallots, coarsely chopped
2 inch knob of ginger, coarsely chopped
8 chilli padis
1/2 tbsp peanut oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander powder
1/4 ground cumin powder
1/2 tsp curry powder
4 winged beans, washed and cut into 1/2 cm slices
3 tbsp coconut milk
1/2 tbsp peanut oil
Ground black pepper

1. Salt and pepper the fillets
2. Blitz the garlic, shallots, ginger & chillies with the 1/2 tbsp oil, and all the powders till they form a fine paste
3. Marinate the fillets in half of this mixture for at least 15 mins
4. Heat the 1/2 tbsp oil in a pan and stir fry 1/2 of the remaining green chilli paste till fragrant and slightly golden
5. Add the fillets and fry for about 4 mins each side
6. Remove the fillets and place each apart in a big platter or in three separate plates
7. Place a spoonful of the cooked chilli paste on top of one fillet and you have the Pan-Fried Butterfish in Green Chilli Paste
8. Add the winged beans, oil and rest of uncooked chilli paste to the chilli paste left in the pan
9. Cook for about 6-8 mins, longer if the winged beans are older and therefore tougher - as mine were
10. Place a spoonful of the cooked winged bean chilli paste on top of one fillet - voila, Butterfish Pan-Fried in Winged Greens (yes, I know I am corny)
11. Add the coconut milk and cook for about 3 mins till milk and vegetables are well mixed and heated through
12. Plate the last fillet with this mixture and you have the last dish - Butterfish in Green Curried Wing Bean Sauce

The "green mussels" did indeed taste like giant tok toks. But because they were so big, the texture and taste was uneven. The most tender and succulent portion was in the middle. The "head" and end were tougher and more rubbery and therefore, less flavourful because these areas (one being much smaller, and the other being exposed), were the ones that got overcooked easier. I think I prefer the normal tok toks.

Overall, this is the unhealthiest dish I have cooked in a long time. It was very oily - I am not used to too much oil in my food and as I ate it I could feel my heart constricting in protest. Gasp, the horror ... the horror. Pairing the buttery and oily butterfish with the coconut milk was not the brightest thing to do. It was definitely overkill and I found my self eating most of the fillet with the chilli paste as the flavour of the fish was best enhanced that way. The second dish with the plain winged beans fried in the chilli paste was not too bad but again, I found that too oily. I must have added a smudge too much oil in frying the paste. So I would recommend going easy on the oil. But not when you are blitzing it as the oil helped make the paste finer. All in all, I would rate the dish 4/10 for health. I am so ashamed ...

Tastewise, I would rate it at 6.75/10 overall. The coconut curry sauce ruined it for me. Everything tasted way too rich after that. The best contestant, the butterfish in the green chilli paste rates about 7/10 but I think next time I might add some kaffir lime leaves to the paste to give it more zing. Also, the biggest disappointment was the heat level. I thought adding 8 green chilli padis for a half-bowl of semi-rempah would give the dish quite a bit of zing. In fact, it was so mild, I think a baby could have eaten it. Either those chilli padis I bought from Carrefour are capsicums in disguise or I have under-estimated the number of chillis. Next time I will double it. I hate it when spicy dishes turn out to be mild imposters.

I felt so unhealthy after that meal, I had a pear instead of the chocolate tart I had bought from Carrefour.

Sigh ... back to work for me. Till tomorrow when I let you know about the progress of the Farikaal.

Categories - Fish Tales


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