In case you've never come across the term before, "pilchard" is the Cornish name for a large sardine. In Britain, while fresh sardines are sold as "sardines", "pilchards" are sold canned, usually in a tomato sauce but sometimes in brine. Like regular cans of sardines - the small flat tins you can buy the world over - the taste and smell is quite strongly fishy. Despite this, they're a useful storecupboard item. They're sold in 14oz/400g tins, currently for £1.09 each. One can should feed four.
I like to cook them in a Madras curry, which mitigates the fishy flavour. The original was made in a moment of pure inspiration, several years ago, and now I make it once in the blue moon, when I haven't preplanned dinner and fancy a curry. That was the case a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I'd share the recipe with you.
Like all my curries, it's a one pot meal, padded with veggies (in this case, the last of the carrots which were half dead in the fridge). Just add rice (which I have done, below). For instructions on cooking a "regular" meat Madras, see the notes below the recipe.
Makes 4 generous portions. Total cost, including rice, £2.41.
1 large onion, chopped (12p)
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed (5p)
100g-200g mushrooms, sliced. (35p)
(Or, instead of the above, use a portion of base)
1x400g tin Pilchards in tomato sauce. (£1.09)
1x400g tin chopped tomatoes (25p)
Additional veg: e.g. 2-3 large carrots sliced or 1-2 peppers/capsicum, cubed, or a cup of frozen mixed veg (whatever is available) (15p)
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use rapeseed). (3p)
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (from a bottle). (5p)
Spices 1 (20p)
1 teaspoon ground chilli (more if you like heat)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 whole green cardamom
1 desertspoon garam marsala
1 desertspoon chopped fenugreek leaves (optional)
1.5 cups basmati rice or white, long grain rice (12p)
3 cups Boiling water
- Combine spices 1 in a small ramekin dish. Add a tablespoon or two of water to form a thick paste and set aside. (This will help stop the spices burning.)
- Heat your oil in a deep saucepan or large, deep frying pan. Fry the onion until soft and glassy, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms and, when they have made water and most of their water has evaporated, add the crushed garlic. Continue frying for 1-2 more minutes.
- Make sure you have your tins of tomatoes and pilchards open. Stir Spice 1 into the onion mix and fry until the aroma rises.
- Quickly add your tins of tomatoes and pilchards, breaking up the pilchards with your wooden spoon/spatula as they land in the pan. Stir in well.
- Add your optional veggies. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, then turn down to a simmer. Stir occasionally.
- At this point, put the kettle on to boil for the rice. When the kettle has boiled, measure out your rice and pour it into a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Cover the rice with twice the volume of boiling water. Bring the saucepan back to the boil, cover with the lid and boil for 2 minutes. Switch off the power and leave it to situndisturbed for 15 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and all the water is absorbed.
- Immediately after you have switched off the rice, stir Spices 2 into your curry. Simmer until the rice is done, stir in the lemon or lime juice and serve.
- To cook a regular meat Madras, add a step between step 1 and step 1 above. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil/cooking fat and brown 1lb/500g of cubed beef/lamb/chicken/pork. Remove the browned meat to a plate, then proceed with steps 2, 3 and 4, returning the meat to the pan at step 4. In step 5, simmer the meat mixture for an hour or until it is cooked and can be cut with a fork, stirring occasionally and adding extra water if it gets too dry. Once the meat is tender, proceed with the remainder of the recipe
- I buy my spices in 500g bags from the Asian section of the supermarket or from Asian shops like Wing Yip and store them in old Douwe Egberts coffee jars. This is the cheapest way to buy them. Given how long they last, etc, I reckon 20p is a fair assessment of the cost of all the spices listed.
- When you are feeling flush, buy big bunches of fresh fenugreek and coriander. Wash them, chop them and freeze them loosely packed into the largest ziplock bags you can find. (You want to be able to break up the herbs when frozen.). When you need fresh herbs to finish off a curry, add a spoonful/lump or two straight from the freezer.
- All the prices above are based on the cheapest option from Tesco. Yes, you can get tins of chopped tomatoes for 25p, but only when they're on a 4 for £1 offer, when I usually stock up.