Malaysian Spiced Crayfish Curry.
Food culture purists gets me so nervous. I recall once telling a friend of Italian decent how I make – what I ascertained to be – a traditional lasagne only for him to verbally beat me to the pavement for my culinary vulgar Western ways. I very quickly learned that while there are several thousand ways of cooking one dish, unless the cook themselves belong to the culture – your attempt is nothing more than an homage and a recreation, not the real thing. In layman’s – a recipe is only culturally authentic, when it is cooked by somebody of that culture.
That is why I now only cook with genuine inspiration as opposed to a desire to replicate. My recipes are nothing more than a bounce back from a guideline, recipe or tradition I have maybe read or heard about that I then went and simply tried to recreate in the safe confines of my own Kitchen. This Malaysian Spiced Crayfish Curry is an example of this.
I was careful to deem this recipe Malaysian spiced as opposed to purely Malaysian as there is incidentally nothing Malaysian about it at all. It all started when I was reading about the traditions of a rumah terbuka, translated to an ‘open house’ dinner party that is thrown in Malaysia. It was so rich in heritage and tradition – and more importantly, a plate of sweetly spiced food – that it inspired me to want to create a dish that could bring the same warmth and culturally rooted succour to my own dinner party.
Malaysian cuisine is often rooted in the base of sweet notes married with warm spices and this nuptial pairing is usually a default for me when I cook. Therefore I trowelled through my store cupboard for my go-to spices that bring me this sense and created such a deep yet contrast of spices that unified so perfectly yet could still be identified for their individual flavourings. This was to act as the Malaysian inspired ‘spicing’. My other Malaysian inspiration was by pure laziness as I discovered that alongside a main dish, it is common tradition to serve some plain long grain rice – perfect for me as I hate faffing with rice.
I also shamelessly use frozen peas which I guess is terribly disrespectful of me in a Malaysian inspired dish, however convenience had to override creativity in this sense. It is what it is and still tasted fantastic. Cut me some slack – this is a Malaysian ‘spiced’ curry, not an actual Malaysian curry, remember?
In a pestle and mortar, bash together a few pinches of curry powder, smoky paprika, cinnamon, all spice and chili powder. Nobody will arrest you for doing this in a bowl with the back of a spoon mind, so don’t rush out and buy a pestle and mortar, please. In a wide but slightly deep pan, fry some chopped red onion in some olive oil and add salt to stop them catching. Grate in some garlic and mix to stop the garlic burning.
Add half of the spice blend and stir. Halve a bunch of cherry tomatoes and add them to the pan and lower the heat, smooshing the tomatoes around with a spoon. Once they start softening, start pushing them down with the spoon so that they release their juices.
Once everything is starting to soften and the tomatoes have begun to go smudgy, add the remaining spice blend. Now add the crayfish – if you’re using frozen, make sure they are fully thawed but also as a side not, I used precooked because I am lazy and this is very cheap in a local supermarket. However, if you are using raw (as I have done and tastes even better) add them right after the onion and garlic. Now squeeze in the juice of a whole lime, add some frozen peas and give everything a little mix (the pan, not the band) and clamp on a tight fitting lid.
Meanwhile, feel free to now make your rice. I am in no position to give full authority on how to make rice because this is not my strongest point however I always add rice to salted water on a 1:2 ratio, bring to a boil, lower the heat, clamp on a lid and leave to do its thing for about 10-12 minutes (or until my nerves get the better of me) and then just take it off the heat and ‘fluff’ it with a fork. I hate when food writes tell me to ‘fluff rice with a fork’, but there really is no appropriate alternative!
But basically, for all intents and purposes, once the rice is cooked, your curry should have emulsified in such a fragrantly beautiful way that you will want to eat it from the pan. I tend to crown a curry like this with some toasted flaked almonds but this is not a necessity. I would however recommend an evergreen carpet of coriander because the sour, almost citrusy hit from the leaf adds extra depth to the sweet warmth of the curry.
Again like I said, this is a Malaysian spiced inspired curry. You can also be very liberal in your choice of meat or meat substitute but I did choose crayfish purely on the basis that I had some leftover in the fridge from another recipe. Crayfish is also Halal because it doesn’t live on land in its live form, so that’s a Malaysian bonus, I guess. So I recommend putting some sweet in with the spice and have a rumah terbuka of your own. Tell your friends that’s what it is too – it’s not a gathering or a dinner party, it’s a rumah terbuka. Everybody loves a show off.