by Marlene del Rosario
Cashew-encrusted Cod Loin Curry
We all have days when we’re too lazy to make a grocery run. Resist that impulse to call for Chinese take out! If you keep a well stocked pantry (watch out for a future article on this), chances are you have what it takes to make an awesome meal. It might take some experimenting, but all great ideas, meals included, are honed from experimentation in one form or another.
On such a day a few weeks ago, I decided fish was on the menu as I had frozen tilapia loins that were easy to defrost. But what to do with it? I assessed my fridge’s contents for inspiration and realized there were quite a few jars I hadn't touched in a while. Ok, a few years even. Yes, I admit to being a hoarder of many things food-related, especially exotic condiments and food items hard to come by-- miso, century eggs, dried shrimp, crab paste, assorted shrimp pastes, coffee from weasel poop, kimchi, curry pastes and my Peruvian stash of huacatay and aji amarillo. Oh which of my little friends will I be playing with today?
Ahhh, Huacatay. I remember opening the jar years ago for a taste, and though pleasant, I was not inspired. This time it called to me as I realized I never gave it a chance.
Huacatay (pronounced wah-ca-tie), otherwise known as Peruvian Black Mint, is native to South America and is said to have a flavor profile of mint, basil, lime and tarragon. I haven't seen it fresh here, but jars of the paste are available in South American grocery stores and online. The paste version contains salt and citric acid, so to me, the flavor profile is a slightly salty, mint- lime combination with earthy tones of spinach.
When unfamiliar with an ingredient, I err on the side of caution and use it sparingly. So I thought I’d make a green curry sauce for the fish--- I already had a Thai green curry paste as a base, but I also had frozen lemon grass, cilantro and coconut milk, onions, garlic, fish sauce and sugar in the pantry. So I gave it a go.
In a nut shell, my method for fish curry :
Sautee onions, garlic, lemon grass, green curry paste and huacatay. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar. Puree into a creamy sauce. Add fish pieces. Cook until done. Garnish with cilantro.
It was spectacular. I have made this curry sauce before, sans huacatay. So I was pretty floored at how this one ingredient changed the flavor profile and increased its complexity.
Last week, I replicated this at a dinner party and took it up several notches by using fresh Captain’s cut (the thickest, choicest cut) Cod loin encrusted with cashew-panko which was pan seared and oven-finished, and dropped into the curry sauce (above photo). This curry was served with red rice and grilled asaparagus and tomatoes (recipe here).
It was a major hit! Now that it’s been tried and tested, I will actually measure out proportions to write the recipe so I can teach it in class. But this wonderful meal came from being too lazy to do a grocery run and a little guilt that I hadn’t used my huacatay in a few years.
What’s in your fridge?
Marlene del Rosario is a Director and Home Chef at Home Chef Workshop. Originally from the Philippines, Marlene moved to the US to pursue her passion in music, and has since discovered other passions--the culinary arts, gardening and her husband, Jeff. She loves to travel, is an advocate of the SLOW food principles and hopes to encourage people towards a more sustainable lifestyle.