Mark Hix’s Sri Lankan-inspired seafood recipes

This simple seafood salad comes topped with a shucked oyster
This simple seafood salad comes topped with a shucked oyster - Matt Austin

I was invited to the Galle Literary Festival’s culinary offshoot in Sri Lanka earlier this year by my friend, its founder, Geoffrey Dobbs. This was an exciting opportunity to visit a country I’d never been to before and cook a five-course dinner using local ingredients. I drafted a rough menu in the UK having received a local seasonal-produce list, but of course, once I’d arrived and settled into the beautiful Braganza House in Talpe I had a few days of thinking and shopping time – and my imagination went into overdrive.

The fish market along the coast in Galle is huge, with lots of small traders selling straight off the boats. My plan was to cook red mullet until I saw dorado, or mahi mahi, which I had caught during my trips to the Bahamas. The firm flesh is amazing and very adaptable to all sorts of dishes. I was advised to wait until the day before the dinner to buy it, which I stupidly did, and of course then there were only small fish available.

'My imagination went into overdrive,' says Hix of his culinary trip to Sri Lanka
'My imagination went into overdrive,' says Hix of his culinary trip to Sri Lanka - Matt Austin

Instead I opted for Spanish mackerel, or thora as it’s known in Sri Lanka, and snapped up two large fish. The other great find was large blue freshwater prawns, which have long claws and a fat body, so I bought up the whole lot of those from one stand – though there were also different types of squid which went into my seafood salad course.

I quietly plodded away at the villa, preparing the dishes for the five-course meal for 40. Alongside the menu, I made a cocktail using the waste from each course. The seafood salad was accompanied by a shot made with prawn shells, a fishy version of the classic bull shot, which uses beef bouillon and vodka. A goat ragu had a tomato and pineapple verdita-style drink made with local arrack; and a spiced chocolate and squash pie had a squash and vanilla sour made from squash skin and vanilla pods straight off the tree, which I’d never seen before.

The dinner was a success, and afterwards I did a masterclass where my love of fishing tempted me to hold a catch-and-cook demonstration. I needed a skipper who could take me sport fishing. Happily I managed to find someone and my travel tackle was in my case, so I was all set. We sailed around the bay and I finally hooked into a nice 4kg trevally – a versatile, full-flavoured fish. The demo went well, but the trip to catch that giant cost me $200!

The recipes I’m sharing here are based on dishes I made in Sri Lanka, with a few ingredients swapped for home cooks in the UK.

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