Chef Liam Tomlin’s fried fish tacos


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  • For the marinade:
  • 4/5 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp castor sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • For the fish tacos:
  • 360 g firm white fish, skinned, boned and cut into 12 strips of equal size
  • 4 poppadums
  • 1,5 litre vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • For the salad:
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
  • 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 2 deep-fried shallots
  • 24 semi-dried tomatoes
  • freshly squeezed lime juice
  • sea salt
  • For the coconut-and-tamarind dressing:
  • 20 ml coconut oil
  • 5 g fenugreek seeds
  • 10 g black mustard seeds
  • 200 g onion, finely sliced
  • 80 g garlic, finely sliced
  • 5 g turmeric
  • 10 g Kashmiri red chilli powder
  • 10 g freshly ground black pepper
  • 200 ml tamarind water (see recipe)
  • sea salt
  • 400 ml coconut milk
  • To make the tamarind water:
  • 50 g tamarind paste
  • 60 ml lukewarm water
  • For the deep-fried shallots:
  • 500 ml vegetable oil
  • 4 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • For the semi-dried tomatoes:
  • 24 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 70 ml Champagne vinegar
  • 25 ml Thali curry oil
  • Thali curry salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of castor sugar
  • To make the Thali curry oil:
  • 2 litres sunflower oil
  • 20 g coriander seeds
  • 15 g cumin seeds
  • 10 g fennel seeds
  • 10 g black peppercorns
  • To make the Thali curry blend:
  • 10 g coriander seeds
  • 10 g cumin seeds
  • 10 g fennel seeds
  • 10 g black mustard seeds
  • 10 g Kashmiri red chilli powder
  • 10 g turmeric
  • 5 g dried onion flakes
  • 5 g ground ginger
  • 5 g fresh curry leaves
  • To make the Thali curry emulsion:
  • 6 free-range egg yolks
  • 20 g English mustard
  • 15 ml Champagne vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
  • 10 g Thali curry blend (see recipe above)
  • sea salt
  • castor sugar
  • freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 litre Thali curry oil at room temperature (see recipe above)

To make the seasoned flour, mix 4 tsp each rice flour, tapioca flour, potato flour, chickpea flour and corn flour, seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the coconut-and-tamarind dressing: In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the fenugreek and mustard seeds and fry until they begin to crackle and pop. Reduce the heat to low and add the onion and garlic; continue to cook for 3 minutes without colour. Add the turmeric, chilli powder and black pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the tamarind water and season to taste with salt; continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the coconut milk and continue to simmer and stir until it has reduced to a pouring sauce consistency. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

To make the tamarind water: place the tamarind in a bowl, add the lukewarm water and soak for 30 minutes. Pass through a sieve, pressing down with the back of a ladle to extract as much liquid and colour as possible. Discard the solids. Use immediately, as it does not store well.

To make the deep-fried shallots: in a heavy-based saucepan, heat the oil to 170˚C. Add the shallots and cook until crisp and golden, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, lift the shallots out of the oil and drain on kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. When the oil is cool, pour it through a fine sieve into a clean airtight container and store until ready to use again.

To make the semi-dried tomatoes: Place the cherry tomatoes in a bowl. Mix together the Champagne vinegar and Thali curry oil and pour over the tomatoes. Lightly season with Thali curry salt, pepper and castor sugar. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to the lowest possible setting. Remove the tomatoes from the marinade and arrange on a wire rack over a baking tray to drain. Place the tray in the oven for 1½ to 2 hours. The tomatoes will shrink and become more intense in flavour but should still be moist. It is important that the tomatoes are dried at a low temperature; if the oven is too hot, the tomatoes will become too dry, discolour and lose flavour. If not using the tomatoes immediately, place them in a jar and cover with Thali curry oil. Add a crushed garlic clove and a few fresh curry leaves for flavour. Seal with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. The tomatoes will keep for 3 to 4 days.

To make the Thali curry oil: In a heavy-based saucepan, heat 100 ml sunflower oil over medium heat. Temper the whole spices in the oil until fragrant, then add the bay leaves, curry leaves, ground spices and remaining sunflower oil. Reduce the heat to 70°C and simmer the oil for 1 hour. Remove from the heat and allow the oil to infuse for 12 hours at room temperature. Strain the oil through a sieve lined with a double layer of muslin. Discard the spices. Pour the curry oil into a clean airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the Thali curry salt: Place 50g sea salt and 50g Thali curry blend (below) in a bowl and mix together to create a curry-flavoured salt. Add the the zest of 1/2 lime and mix well. Store in a clean airtight container until ready to use.

To make the Thali curry blend: combine the whole spices in a shallow heavy-based pan over a low heat and roast for 4 to 5 minutes. Stir the spices continuously to prevent them from sticking to the pan, becoming bitter or burning. When the spices become highly aromatic, remove from the pan immediately or they will continue to roast. Cool before mixing with the chilli powder, turmeric, dried onion, dried garlic, ginger and the curry leaves. Grind the blend in a spice or coffee grinder until very fine. For an extra-fine blend, sieve the Thali curry blend through a fine drum sieve. Store in a clean airtight container in a dark place to extend the shelf life.

To make the Thali curry emulsion: Place the egg yolks, mustard, vinegar, garlic and Thali curry blend in a bowl and whisk until pale and doubled in volume. Add the curry oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously until it has all been fully incorporated into the egg yolks. Season to taste with a pinch each of salt, castor sugar and a squeeze of lime juice. If the curry emulsion is too thick, thin with a dash of cold water. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.


In a bowl, mix the marinade ingredients, add the fish strips and coat them evenly. Cover with cling wrap and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

In a heavy-based saucepan, heat oil and deep-fry the poppadums for 10 seconds or until golden. Carefully remove them from the oil (reserve the oil for the fish) and shape them over a roll of cling wrap into half-moons.

Place the flour mixture in a bowl. Remove the fish from the marinade and coat it with flour. Reheat the oil to 180°C and fry the fish strips until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and season to taste.

Spoon 3 tbsp Thali curry emulsion into each poppadum and top with 3 fish strips and some salad. Drizzle with coconut & tamarind dressing and garnish with coriander and deep-fried curry leaves.

In the latest February/March issue of VISI, go inside Liam’s beautiful home. (You’re going to want to see his designer kitchen and colour-coordinated recipe books.) The bumper 352-page edition of VISI 100 is on sale now.

Photo credit: Micky Hoyle

Liam Tomlin

Recipe by: Liam Tomlin

Liam Tomlin is the chef-patron and owner of Chefs Warehouse restaurants and Thali in Cape Town.

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