What lengths have you gone to seek an authentic recipe? I hit my personal best, when I e-mailed the Tuvaluan Consulate in London asking if they could send me one.
In the prelude to this final act of desperation, I scoured the internet high and low. My searches repeatedly and inexplicably led me to the same Tuna Coconut Curry recipe published on numerous cooking sites and blogs. It soon became apparent that my predecessors had all hit the same wall of void with Tuvalu, and gravitated to this dish due to lack of optionality. The provenance of the recipe was suspect, as I couldn’t find any evidence that curry is standard fare in Tuvalu. So, I kept looking. There were detailed book excerpts on cooking techniques and equipment, “Tuvalu style” Polynesian dishes, and more Tuna Coconut Curry appearances. It was time to ask a Tuvaluan for help. I didn’t personally know any (Tuvalu’s population of barely 10,000 doesn’t help with the odds), so I sent an e-mail to the Tuvaluan Consulate requesting a recipe.
I wasn’t seriously expecting a reply, but my slightest whiff of hope weighed heavy with prospect. A surprised and delighted response from the Consul himself no less, along with a special recipe of his island to boot. An invitation to the Tuvalu House in Wimbledon to bring in my attempt for a tasting. Photos of beaming consular staff for the blog.
Two weeks passed. No word. Time to move ahead with my contingency plan.
Based on my reading, I had planned an “approximation” of a Tuvaluan dish using three ingredients dear to the islanders – fish, taro and coconut. I visited my local Whole Foods Market and got a fillet of coley, a small bag of spinach (a seemingly acceptable substitute for taro leaves) and a tetra pak of coconut cream.
I fried a finely chopped shallot and a few minced cloves of garlic in vegetable oil, added the spinach and wilted until the water cooked out. Next, I dolloped some coconut cream, cooked for a few minutes until I got a thick saucy consistency, added a squeeze of lime, seasoned and took the pan off the heat.
I patted the coley fillet dry with a kitchen towel and seasoned both sides. The fillet went skin side down on to a hot pan coated with vegetable oil. I pressed the fish down with a spatula to ensure all the skin was in contact with the pan, and once the skin had crisped up in about 2 minutes, turned it around, cooked for another minute, and fillet was ready.
The coley flaked beautifully to the touch of the knife, and enveloped in the creaminess of the spinach-coconut, was luscious. A couple of wedges of a tomato picked from the back garden delivered an extra flourish. If there are any Tuvaluans reading this, Meakaigali!