I admit to a certain degree of befuddlement over Poland’s annual Christmas ritual of the carp slaughter. I have developed ethical angst over the inhuman treatment of grocery store carp; watching the ‘dance of the plastic bags’ on the way from the fish section to the checkout, as schools of carp flop for freedom within grocery baskets while being carted away to Christmas tables. It all seems a bit un-Christian. In an age where every purchase is entangled with ethical and ecological implications, the senselessly-slow suffocation of fish is an action that I can easily leave off my karmic credit card. I understand that fresh fish is a priority, but watching the same people purchase mushy, week-old salmon from the grocery store vendors every other day of the year makes the action seem disingenuous. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Poland’s carp ritual is on par with other annual slaughters, such as the Taiji Dolphin massacre or the beating of Canada’s seals, I do believe that it’s worthy of boycott.
The other issue that I have with the annual carp cull is that this particular species of fish is really unworthy of the culinary attention bestowed upon it at Christmas. Carp is riddled with bones and has a flavour like the muddy water found in a backroad pothole. I do not imagine that I will be able to alter Poland’s custom of serving carp at Christmas; as Diderot once remarked, “If it became customary to go out into the street stark naked I should not be the first nor the last to conform.” However, over the years I have developed a repertoire of carp recipes that make presentable that which is less than palatable. I would like to introduce you to one such dish, with the hope that you will find the courage to include a little bit of culinary diversity in your traditional Christmas menu.
The best way to think about this curry dish is that you are making a thick poaching sauce for your fish. Once the sauce is made, simmer your fish in the sauce until cooked through, but not dry. The quantities of this dish are for four people. However, it can easily be scaled for the number of guests being served. Serve over rice or kasza gryczana (buckwheat).
Christmas Coconut Carp Curry
4-6 carp darnes or fillet portions (descaled)
2 brown onions (medium sliced)
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 piece of ginger (about 20g trimmed; julienned)
45g clarified butter or cooking oil
½ tsp brown mustard seeds (optional)
½ tbsp cumin powder
½ tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch of dried chilli flakes (about ¼-½ tsp, depending upon preference)
2 tins coconut milk (65%)
2 sticks cinnamon
2 pods cardamom
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 lime (half juiced / remaining half sliced for garnish)
Fresh coriander leaves (about 10g; picked and roughly chopped)
- Heat the butter/oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until melted.
- Add the sliced onions and cook until soft.
- Add the mustard seeds and ginger. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly so as not to burn.
- Add the garlic and cook until it’s just beginning to colour.
- Add the cumin, coriander powder, turmeric and chilli and cook for 3 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Add the separated cream from one tin of coconut milk, stirring into the other ingredients until smooth. Cook for about 1 minute, until the oil separates, before adding the remaining coconut milk from both tins. Stir through and reduce to a simmer.
- Add the cinnamon sticks.
- Remove the husk from the cardamom pods and grind with cloves using a mortar and pestle, then add to curry.
- Add sugar and ½ tsp salt, and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Add the fish and continue to simmer on a low temperature until cooked through and delicate, turning pieces in the sauce if necessary (about 10 minutes).
- Add the juice of ½ a lime.
- Stir in half of the chopped coriander leaves.
- Garnish with the remaining coriander leaves and sliced lime.