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« Rougay » de poisson salé : Tasty – and simple to make

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Mauritians were by no means the first to use salt to preserve fish – the process dates back to Ancient Greek times. But they certainly discovered how to enhance the taste by steeping it in a tangy tomato sauce, creating a dish that has become a feature of local cuisine, Rougay pwason sale. Evasion has had the help of Mooroogun Coopen, Canonnier Beachcomber Golf Resort & Spa Executive Chef, in explaining how to prepare it.

 

 

Rougay pwason sale – not to be confused with rougail, a cold side-dish found in neighbouring Reunion Island – is simple to prepare, providing you have good quality ingredients.

The ingredients used in cooking dry salted fish are much the same in both homes and restaurants: sweetish tomatoes, a little home-made ginger-garlic paste, fresh thyme and coriander, and some chillies and onions. Like many Mauritians, Chef Coopen also adds, as a flavour enhancer, a few leaves of kari poule (the curry leaf tree brought here from tropical Asia, known botanically as Murraya Koenigii (L) Spreng).

 

 

To start with, to remove some of the salt, you need to place the fish in cold water and then bring it to the boil. After next draining off the water, the Chef breaks up the fish to remove the bones before frying it in hot oil.

To add a golden touch to them, sauté the onions and garlic-ginger paste for two or three minutes. Then add the bunch of thyme, the tomatoes (crushed and with the pips removed) and the chillies (split in two lengthwise). Adding a little tomato puree will also help to thicken the sauce. 

 

 

After leaving the sauce to cook for 15 minutes, all that’s left to do is to simmer the fried salted fish in the sauce before adding the coriander at the end. Voila! The rougay pwason sale is ready in the Chef’s hotel kitchen, just as it would be had it been home-cooked. Chef Coopen also suggests using a karay, a Mauritian cooking utensil not unlike a wok. To stick even closer to tradition, Chef points out, the dish can also be cooked over a wood fire, particularly as this method further enhances the flavour.

 

 

A rougay pwason sale is normally accompanied by white rice, bouillon brèdes (a green-leaf broth) as well as coconut and/or lemon chutney. To wash it down? A glass of white wine, lemon juice or iced lemongrass tea.

 

 

A salty tale

Whether the famous South African snoek (Thyrsites atun) or the white salted fish produced locally, there’s quite a story behind the use of salted fish in Mauritius. Before the advent of refrigerators, salting was a common way of preserving food. For a long time, salted fish was considered a poor people’s dish but that has changed in recent years. Broken up and packaged, it’s now made its way into supermarkets. Indeed, it’s now found in all kinds of homes and also used in a chutney, in a dish of fried rice or served as canopies. 

A local musician has even brought out a song about it.

At Canonnier, Beachcomber’s four-star hotel on the North Coast, it’s one of the star items in the lavish Mauritian buffet which features on the menu once a fortnight – and has proved very popular with guests there.