(basic) Kerala Fish Curry

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This was one of the first recipes I learnt from my mom when I started cooking. I have made it with different types of fish but, truth be told, they taste the best with any Indian fish you can get your hands on. This was also the most requested recipe since I inaugurated my blog few weeks back. So here goes.

A little (aversive) digression before I get into the recipe. Please avoid reading this paragraph further if you are really hungry and just want to get to the recipe 🙂 (But do come back after you are satiated and continue reading this part just FYI.) So as far as types of fish goes, my sincere advice as a friend is to please avoid Tilapia or any farm raised fish. I used to eat individual-packaged frozen Tilapia fillets a lot during my graduate-school-single-life but I learnt a few years back that they are bottom feeders (meaning they essentially feed on waste of all the fishes above them in the food chain) and that they are mostly farm raised.  Farm raised fishes are raised with so many chemicals that all the benefits you usually get from eating fish are completely negated. More information can be found here and here. And if you are still not convinced just google “farm raised fish”and feel free to find more links yourself. I currently buy any fish other than Tilapia ( mostly, Salmon or Mahi-Mahi ) which are wild-caught, fresh or frozen depending on availability.

So getting back to the quintessential kerala fish curry. This curry is the basic fish curry recipe you can build upon. If you would like to add coconut milk to make the gravy thick, you can at the last second simmering stage (although I’ve never tried it, I’m sure the coconut flavor will be yummy!). The fish is cooked in a tamarind-broth which takes on the beautiful flavors of the fish you are using. Be sure to not overcook the fish as it will begin to flake. I love to eat the curry with some rice and yogurt as it brings back wonderful childhood memories of my family having lunch on a routine weekday. The simple pleasures of life, eh?

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(basic) Kerala Fish Curry

Cooking time: 30-45 minutes
Yields: 4  servings

Ingredients

  • 4 Fish fillets, medium size
  • 1/2 big onion, chopped
  • 4 green chillies, splitted
  • 1/2 tsp ginger, finely chopped/paste
  • 1/4 tsp garlic, finely chopped/paste
  • 1/4 tsp jeera/cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
  • a sprig of curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste/a lemon size ball of raw tamarind (refer notes)
  • 1.5 -2 cups of warm water (if using coconut milk, please refer notes)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp chilli powder (refer notes)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, or oil of choice
  • For Fish Marinade:
    • Salt, as needed
    • Turmeric powder, 1/4 tsp
    • Chilli powder, 1 tsp

Method:

  1. Wash and dry the fish fillets.
  2. Marinate it with the fish marinade ingredients and keep it aside. Preferably for 2 hours, but it is okay if it is done at the beginning of the preparation.
  3. If using raw tamarind, let it soak in the warm/boiling water for atleast 15-30 minutes and drain the pulp. Keep the tamarind juice aside. If using store bought tamarind paste, mix the paste with warm water till completely dissolved and keep aside.
  4. Add  oil in a pan on medium heat. Once it is hot, add the mustard seeds. When it begins to crackle, add the curry leave and jeera/cumin seeds
  5. After a few seconds, add onions. Cook till translucent.
  6. Add ginger, garlic and green chillies. Stir and cook it till the raw smell disappears.
  7. Now, set the heat to low.Image 1
  8. After a few seconds, add the turmeric powder and chilli powder. Stir it for a quick 1-2 seconds and then immediately add the tamarind juice (Take care to ensure that the chilli powder and the turmeric powder does not get burnt)
  9. When the water starts to boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add more later, if needed.
  10. Now add the fish pieces, one by one. If the pieces are not submerged completely, add enough water to just cover them.Image 3
  11. Close the vessel and let it cook on a medium flame for 20-30 minutes, depending on the fish you are using.
  12. After half hour, check if it completely cooked otherwise let it boil for some more time, but without lid.
  13. Let it boil till the water reduces slightly and the gravy thickens.
  14. Once done, let it simmer with the lid closed till it is time to serve. Serve with plain rice.Image 4Notes:
    1. I generally use tamarind paste since it is convenient and quicker on a weeknight. But using fresh tamarind pulp and extracting the juice will increase the flavor of the dish.
    2. 2 teaspoons of regular (not kashmiri) chilli powder is necessary for medium spice level in the dish. Mixing 1-1/2 tsp regular chilli powder with 1/2 to 3/4 tsp kashmiri chilli powder will enhance the signature “red” color of the Kerala fish curry. So if you want that extra red, do add partial kashmiri chilli powder. Otherwise, feel free to use either kind or a mixture of them. However, if using only kashmiri chilli powder, you might have to increase the amount used to 3-4 tsps to get adequate spice level in the dish.
    3. If using coconut milk, add 1/4 – 1/2 cup thin coconut milk along with the tamarind broth and proceed with the recipe.

(basic) Kerala Fish Curry

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A simple and quick authentic Kerala fish curry (Fish slowly cooked in a tamarind-broth)

Ingredients

  • 4 Fish fillets, medium size
  • 1/2 big onion, chopped
  • 4 green chillies, splitted
  • 1/2 tsp ginger, finely chopped/paste
  • 1/4 tsp garlic, finely chopped/paste
  • 1/4 tsp jeera/cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
  • a sprig of curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste/a lemon size ball of raw tamarind (refer notes)
  • 1.5 -2 cups of warm water
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp chilli powder (refer notes)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, or oil of choice
  • For Fish Marinade:
    • Salt, as needed
    • Turmeric powder, 1/4 tsp
    • Chilli powder, 1 tsp

Directions

  1. Wash and dry the fish fillets.
  2. Marinate it with the fish marinade ingredients and keep it aside. Preferably for 2 hours, but it is okay if it is done at the beginning of the preparation.
  3. If using raw tamarind, let it soak in the warm/boiling water for atleast 15-30 minutes and drain the pulp. Keep the tamarind juice aside. If using store bought tamarind paste, mix the paste with warm water till completely dissolved and keep aside.
  4. Add  oil in a pan on medium heat. Once it is hot, add the mustard seeds. When it begins to crackle, add the curry leave and jeera/cumin seeds
  5. After a few seconds, add onions. Cook till translucent.
  6. Add ginger, garlic and green chillies. Still and cook it till the raw smell disappears.
  7. Now, set the heat to low.
  8. After a few seconds, add the turmeric powder and chilli powder. Stir it for a quick 1-2 seconds and then immediately add the tamarind juice (Take care to ensure that the chilli powder and the turmeric powder does not get burnt)
  9. When the water starts to boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add more later, if needed.
  10. Now add the fish pieces, one by one. If the pieces are not submerged completely, add enough water to just cover them.
  11. Close the vessel and let it cook on a medium flame for 20-30 minutes, depending on the fish you are using.
  12. After half hour, check if it completely cooked otherwise let it boil for some more time, but without lid.
  13. Let it boil till the water reduces slightly and the gravy thickens.
  14. Once done, let it simmer with the lid closed till it is time to serve. Serve with plain rice.

Notes

  1. I generally use tamarind paste since it is convenient and quicker on a weeknight. But using fresh tamarind pulp and extracting the juice will increase the flavor of the dish.
  2. Two teaspoons of regular (not kashmiri) chilli powder is necessary for medium spice level in the dish. Mixing 1-1/2 tsp regular chilli powder with 1/2 to 3/4 tsp kashmiri chilli powder will enhance the signature “red” color of the Kerala fish curry. So if you want that extra red, do add partial kashmiri chilli powder. Otherwise, feel free to use either kind or a mixture of them. However, if using only kashmiri chilli powder, you might have to increase the amount used to 3-4 tsps to get adequate spice level in the dish.
  3. If using coconut milk, add 1/4 – 1/2 cup thin coconut milk along with the tamarind broth and proceed with the recipe.

 

Image 6

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9 thoughts on “(basic) Kerala Fish Curry

  1. So other than wild salmon , what other fish species is safe to eat ? I read bad things about imported shrimp as well

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    1. I usually get wild caught mahi-mahi, cod or sea bass. Frozen mostly since fresh is hard to come by in this part of the country! Wild caught tuna packed in water is also another healthy fish. We generally don’t buy shrimp so I’ve not read too much into it, to be honest. I’m assuming if it’s wild caught (and less “travelled”) it should be comparatively better. I haven’t done much reading into seafood import either but a quick search yielded this :

      http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/11/imports-and-exports-how-safe-is-seafood-from-foreign-sources/

      Overall, I think the more closer to home and if that option is not available (like Indian fish varieties) always picking wild-caught over farm-raised puts a relatively lesser risk on the dinner plate. We do what we can! 🙂

      Like

  2. Awesome, was waiting for the recipe!! What happens if no tamarind paste is at hand? Will fresh squeezed lemon suffice? Also, marinating will be done with what ingredients— ginger garlic paste, turmeric and red chilli powder?

    Like

    1. Hello Somak! Glad you liked the post. I’m not sure if lemon juice will give the same taste as tamarind since tamarind broth is the base for the curry. Tamarind paste is available online on amazon – worth a shot? 🙂 I marinate the fish with salt, turmeric and red chilli powder as required. If you marinate it with ginger garlic paste then since we don’t fry the fish but put it directly into the broth to “poach” there might be lingering taste of raw ginger-garlic. Maybe you could fry the fish fillets a little bit before Step 8 and then proceed to add the chilli and turmeric powder, fry it for a few quick seconds and then add the tamarind broth? Let me know how it turns out!

      Like

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