Easy fish, tomato and coconut stew

Photographer: Emma
Serves 4

 I remember a version of this as a staff meal and at the time I thought it was so gourmet.  Looking at this recipe today, it may have lost its gourmet shine but it is however just as delicious and worthy of a blog post.

This made me ponder staff meals consumed during my time cooking in restaurants & cafes; some meals were mediocre but some were such a treat. My first job was a busy local café (which over 10 years later is still bustling) and staff meals have stuck in my mind because we got it just as good as the paying patrons. I remember one bartender (who became my cousin in-law) saying he only ate eye fillet and hot chips. You’d be pushing your luck with that kind of demand today, the chefs must have really liked him because that’s what he got.

My favourite was havarti, prosciutto, spicy tomato sauce and basil sandwiched between grilled eggplant slices. In comparison to our bartender, I was allowed it when it was a slow seller – when the crumbs were a bit soggy and the havarti a little hard. On occasion the head chef would make me pan-fried fish on saffron risotto, the fish wouldn’t have been fresh that day but I didn’t care, it was still amazing. Or then there was his amazing osso bucco or coq au vin – I’d never complain being served either of those beauties. I’m not going to name the place of work because to think we ate so well makes me feel slightly guilty. But this was long before the GFC, and honestly sometimes my staff meal was a bowl of fries.

Whatever it was, it was eaten outside and either too early in the evening or too late at night. There was a choice of sitting on a reversed 20L bucket or a broken chair. And there would almost always be one of the bar staff out there with you, quickly puffing away and telling you stories.


2 tsp olive oil
5 shallots, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 tbsp ginger, grated

1 tbsp coriander, ground
1 tbsp turmeric, ground
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds,
2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)

2 x 400g cans cherry tomatoes
1 x 400g can unsweetened coconut cream

2 firm white fish (or 4 fillets)

1 lime, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste

2 spring onions, sliced
A handful coriander leaves

Crusty white bread to serve


1. On a low to medium heat in a frying pan, sauté the shallots, garlic and ginger. Once soft, turn the heat up and add the spices. Fry for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
2. Add the cherry tomatoes, then half-fill both cans with water, swirl and pour the water into the pan.
3. Add the coconut milk, half-fill the can with water, swirl and add to the pan.
4. Simmer the liquid for 20 – 30 minutes, adding more water if it becomes too thick.

5. When you are ready to serve, the liquid needs to be lightly simmering.
6. Cut each fish fillet into 4 or 5. Add each piece one by one to the simmering liquid. Cool for no more than 5 minutes.
7. Add the lime juice, salt and pepper to taste and then spoon into bowls, topping with the spring onion and coriander.

8. Serve with crusty bread to mop up any remaining juices in the bowl.