Wednesday 11 March 2009

Ask any Mangalorean what a classic Mangalorean dish would look like, and one of the answers would be a fish curry and rice! A very simple dish, but with so many memories. From going to the fish market on Dad'd old Bajaj scooter, to picking out the freshest fish, and bargaining the price down. Then Dad stopping off at a friend's to find out if he got the lowest price for the fish... then mom cleaning and gutting them. Rice is a staple in South Indian cooking, so we always had a pot on at any given time of the day. Then, we'd smell the lovely spices being fried and then ground with fresh coconut making the base for the curry sauce. My sister and I would usually be co-opted at this point to chop the onions and chillies, while mom simmered the curry and then we would smell the sharp tang of curry leaves and mustard seeds as they'd be spluttered for the seasoning.

The best bit about this curry is that it tastes even better the next day. Not that there would be any leftovers, mind :-) You can make it with any kind of fish, boned or boneless. The classic is with sardines or mackerel, cleaned and gutted, and cut into two big pieces (the picture is curry made with fresh sardines). Have to remember, though, that sardines have loads of bones, so may not be suitable for young kids. Its also rather good with a nice piece of white fish, which absorbs the flavour of the curry and also with salmon which is just strong enough to hold its own. Carol, my sister, and I always had to fight about who would get the fish tail pieces... and my mom used to love the fish heads (including the eyes, ick!!) The spice level in this curry here has been scaled down quite a bit, but its still rather spicy. Tone down the pepper and chillies and leave out the green chilly if you like your curries milder. Add a splash of white wine vinegar at the end, if you like, for a lovely taste sensation, though this is not strictly necessary.


500 g fish fillets (I like to use sardines or mackerel, see write up above for substitutions)

For the curry paste:

2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 long red mild dried chillies
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 roughly chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp tamarind paste
About 50g coconut cream (use the hard packed version, if possible) otherwise, 75 ml liquid coconut cream
150 ml water

For the curry:

1/2 onion diced
1/2 inch piece of ginger, chopped finely
2 flakes of garlic, chopped finely
1 green chilly, slit lengthwise
Salt to taste (or 1 and 1/2 tsp)

To season:

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 sprigs curry leaves (about 10 leaves in total)


450 ml rice
600 ml boiling water


1. Make the rice. Put the rice into a pot, and pour over the boiling water. Cover the pot with aluminium foil and a very tight fitting lid. Leave to simmer on a low flame for about 20 - 25 minutes.

2. For the curry paste, toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, fenugreek seeds and red chillies for about 45 seconds on a hot pan. Place into a blender with the turmeric, onion, garlic, tamarind and coconut cream and water and blend to a fine paste.

3. In a pan, pop in the onion, minced ginger and garlic and the chilly. Pour the ground curry paste into the pan, stir and add more water if required to get a smooth curry. Ideally, you want it just a little runnier than single cream. Season. Let the curry simmer for about 25 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, by adding more salt and/or tamarind paste. Add a splash of vinegar instead of tamarind for a change here.

4. Place the fish into the curry and poach until just cooked.

5. Temper the curry now. In a small pan, heat the oil, and pop in the mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, put in the curry leaves, stir for about 30 seconds and pour the whole lot into the curry and stir gently.

6. Serve with the rice and a vegetable side dish, if preferred.


  1. Hi Michelle,

    I've just tried this recipe and I find that the curry tastes overwhelmingly of raw onion despite cooking the sauce for 30 mins. I followed the recipe using a fairly mild red onion. Was I supposed to fry the onion before pouring in the curry paste and simmering?

  2. Thanks for letting me know.

    A red onion actually can make the curry taste more of onion. I know its weird a bit. You could fry the onion for about 2 minutes on a high heat until the rawness disappears, which could make the curry mellower.

    The other option is to fry the curry paste a little before adding the water.

    Hope this helps. Thanks for visiting my blog :-)

  3. very easy recipe it is..when i was making first time fish i tried this one only...thanks a lot..


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