Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Fish Bolognese - A Foodie Memory from the Maldives

Many years ago (long before I had parenting responsibilities), I was fortunate enough to visit the islands of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. A most beautiful country made up of tiny coral-reef islands set in atolls and surrounded by the lapping warm Indian Ocean waves. There is little to do other than enjoy the heat, relaxation and swim, snorkel or dive with the incredible array of reef fish and ocean life. It is the only place that I have ever been where I instantly stopped.......... where time seemed to stand still and it really didn't matter whether it was morning, afternoon or somewhere in-between.

The Maldivian people are by necessity incredibly self-sufficient. There are no grass fields and thus no cows, sheep or other large land animals bred for food. They are a nation of fish eaters, all caught sustainably and by hand to protect the fragile eco-system of coral reefs that form the nation's atolls. But you won't find cold-water cod, plaice or salmon on the menu. Dinner is served according to the catch of the day........... Grouper, Parrot Fish, Tuna, Snapper, Mahi Mahi, Barracuda, eels amongst many many others.

One of the dishes served when I was visiting the Maldives was a fish bolognese, made with Grouper. It was delicious. The Grouper (a firm white fish) was minced and cooked in tomatoes with onions and chilli. I was so impressed that I went back to my room and wrote down the ingredients my tastebuds recalled, so that I could try to replicate the dish when I got home.

Of course, Grouper is not much available in the UK (although I did try hard to find it), so I sought the advice of a local fishmonger, who recommended Monkfish as an available alternative which he thought might have enough firmness for the required texture of the dish. Unless by some very occasional, very lucky chance I manage to source a suitable reef fish in the UK, I have been making my fish bolognese with Monkfish ever since.

It is much lighter than it's beef counterpart, and tastes as fresh and healthy as it's ingredients suggest. Although it has a distinct fish-ness about it, it is not over-fishy in flavour, so that even potentially fish-fussy children seem to enjoy it. Maybe it helps that it is dressed up as their favourite, familiar pasta dish?

The mushrooms are heavily disguised as they are chopped very small (even my daughter who baulks at them didn't even notice they were there!) and the onions are sautéed so that they are very soft and slightly caramelised. The tarragon compliments the fish beautifully and gives a background hint of aniseed and the chilli provides a warming kick (which you can either intensify with more chilli or play down by using less for those little people who haven't quite got their chilli-legs yet).

I am entering my Fish Bolognese for this month's Four Season's Food Challenge, being hosted by Lou over at Eat Your Veg (co-hosted by Anneli at Delicieux). March's theme is 'Something Fishy', so I think this is a good opportunity to share my favourite Maldivian food memory in the hope that some of you may choose to enjoy it too. Perfect for kids. Perfect for grown ups.

This is one incredibly flavoursome, very very healthy pasta dish.......... We sprinkle ours with the 'expected' Parmesan cheese and a little extra chopped parsley, which gives an additional iron-richness. Serve it with spaghetti (gluten free or not), and enjoy!

Fish Bolognese

Ingredients (serves 4)             

500 g/1 lb Monkfish or an alternative very firm white fish - minced, 'grated' or finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion - finely chopped
1 white onion - finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves - finely chopped
1 small red chilli - deseeded and finely chopped
1 small green chilli - finely chopped
3 largish closed-cup mushrooms - finely chopped
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons marmite / yeast extract spread
3 tablespoons concentrated tomato puree
1 teaspoon dried tarragon or handful finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon dried parsley or handful finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to season

To serve : 
spaghetti (I used gluten free spaghetti)
grated parmesan
chopped fresh parsley


  1. Make sure your fish is completely skinned and de-boned, then mince, grate or chop finely. I use a food processor with a grating attachment so that the fish resembles a minced texture.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and then sauté the chopped onions and garlic for about 10 minutes until soft.
  3. Add the chopped chilli and mushrooms and continue to cook gently for a further 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the fish and continue to gently cook, stirring frequently for another 5 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, marmite/yeast extract and tomato puree and stir through thoroughly. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Do not panic about the appearance of the sauce at this stage. As it cooks, the fish will take on the tomato colour and will thicken.
  6. Add the herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir.
  7. Leave to simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally for about 25 minutes, uncovered. This will allow the liquid to reduce and the fish to absorb the tomato redness, so that the bolognese sauce becomes thick and rich.
  8. Serve with spaghetti, with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and a parsley garnish.

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  1. I kind of wish I hadn't read this post, I'm now finding myself dreaming of a holiday in the Maldives, sounds utterly perfect and I could so do with a holiday where I instantly stop! For two weeks please. Your fish bolognese sounds perfect too, I would never have thought of putting fish in a classic bolognese but having read your post it sounds totally delicious and especially with the chili addition. My kids are fortunately big fish (and pasta) fans so I'm bookmarking this to make! A very lovely and inspiring entry to the Four Seasons Food 'Something Fishy' event.

  2. Thank you Lou. I kind of wish I hadn't got the photos out as it has made me realise how much I long to go back! But I love this dish (and so did my husband and daughter!), so it was good to make it again and share it too. I had some left over sauce which I used to make a fishy version of 'shepherds' pie - topped the sauce in a dish with crushed boiled potatoes and cheese and baked. That was totally delicious as well (but it got eaten before I could get the camera out..... darn!)


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