Sunday, October 21, 2012
Pucuk Paku in a Spicy Coconut Milk Gravy
I have lived all my life in Malaysia and yet the first time I tasted this dish was a year ago at an Indonesian restaurant near where I live. It was love at first taste. The thick coconut gravy was ever so delicious with just the right amount of heat in it and the ferns were tasty too: they are said to taste somewhat like asparagus — well, maybe a little.
I was determined to recreated this dish at home. I think it had quickly become one of my most favourite vegetable dishes ever (yes I am dramatic in that way). So for months after, I searched for the ferns — called pucuk paku in Malay or fiddlehead fern in English — in several wet markets and supermarkets but to no avail.
Then last Saturday, I told my friend Sree about my craving and like an angel, she told me they sold it at the wet market in her neighbourhood. I was thrilled. THRILLED. (Really, you have no idea how thrilled I was. Over a fern!) Anyway a day later, Sree called me: she was at the market and asked if I wanted her to buy me some pucuk paku. There I was -- thrilled again. I asked her to buy me two bunches and I collected it from her that very afternoon.
I didn't expect pucuk paku to have such long, woody stems (top, left). The thicker parts of the stems (almost three-quarters of the fern) are not to be eaten. The tops of the fern are what you want to eat: here is where most of the fronds are — the young fronds are tightly coiled like a paku (nail/screw) while the older ones (also edible) are unfurled. The stems at the top are thinner and can snap quite easily and are therefore edible also.
Sorting through the stalks can be a pain. First, you discard the thick, woody stalks (only use the thin stems that can be snapped easily). Next separate the stem from the fronds; cut the stems in half (this is optional but it makes eating a lot more pleasant: no one likes chewy stems). Next rinse the stems and fronds thoroughly to remove any trace of sand/soil.
Once this is done, the rest is a breeze. And, like most curries, this tastes better the day after!
Pucuk Paku in Spicy Coconut Gravy
600g (or thereabouts) cleaned fiddleheads
1 cup vegetable stock/water
1 cup milk
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 cm piece fresh ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, bruised
2 cm piece fresh turmeric (or 1/2 tsp turmeric powder)
3 birds eye chillies, chopped
First step is to blanch the ferns. Bring a pot of water to boil. And the ferns in and let them sit in the water for a coupe of minutes. Drain.
Pound the onions, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and fresh turmeric. If using turmeric powder, keep it till later.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan. When hot, add the pounded ingredients and fry till fragrant. Add the chillies and then the water/stock and salt and bring to boil. Add the ferns and cook for a few minutes and lastly add the coconut milk and milk. Season. Remove from heat.