Kerala Fish Curry 6.000

Renee Comet for The Washington Post; styling by Bonnie S. Benwick

Plate Lab Oct 20, 2016

This curry hails from the home state of chef-restaurateur KN Vinod and may be unlike many you've had.

Serve with steamed rice, steamed yucca or steamed puttu (cylinders of layered rice flour and coconut).

Make Ahead: The curry sauce (without the fish) can be refrigerated for up to 3 days in advance.

Where to Buy: Malabar tamarind, a tart-tasting dried bark, is a key ingredient of this dish, and it is different from the fresh kind you may find in ethnic markets. It is available online via Kashmiri (red) chili powder is not as spicy as the kind you may use when making American chili; it and curry leaves are available at Indian markets and in some large supermarkets.

6 - 8

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 6-8 servings

  • 3 pounds skinned striped bass fillets (may substitute any mild white-fleshed fish fillets)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, plus more for the fish
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kashmiri (red) chili powder, plus more for the fish (see headnote)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Four or five 1- or 2-inch pieces Malabar tamarind (kodampuli; see headnote)
  • 2 cups hot water, plus 2 cups tepid water
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons coconut oil or vegetable oil
  • Fenugreek seed (see headnote)
  • 8 curry leaves (see headnote)
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • One 1/2-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root, minced
  • 6 to 8 shallots, minced or thinly sliced (1 cup)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 small Thai green chili pepper, slit lengthwise into strips and seeded (optional)
  • 10 ounces (1 1/4 cups) regular coconut milk


Rinse the fish fillets under cool running water, then cut them into 1 1/2-inch squares, placing them in a wide, shallow bowl as you work. Season lightly with the salt, ground turmeric and the red chili powder and toss to coat, then sprinkle the lemon juice over them.

Rinse the Malabar tamarind under cool running water, then soak it in the 2 cups of hot water for 10 minutes to soften it.

Heat the 1/3 cup of coconut oil or vegetable oil in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the fenugreek seed, 4 of the curry leaves and all the garlic and ginger; stir-fry just long enough for the garlic to become fragrant and golden brown. Add all but a tablespoon of the shallots; stir-fry just until they become fragrant and golden brown.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons red chili powder, the ground coriander and the 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric; stir-fry for a minute so those spices can bloom, but watch closely to avoid scorching.

Increase the heat to medium-high; immediately add the tamarind and its soaking water, plus the 2 cups of tepid water and the green chili pepper, if using. Cover; once the mixture comes to a boil, season lightly with salt and stir in the coconut milk until the mixture is well combined and warmed through.

Uncover and add the fish pieces (with their juices), making sure it's all submerged in the curry sauce. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the fish is opaque throughout. Cover and turn off the heat. Discard the green chili pepper if you like.

Just before serving, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of coconut or vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the remaining tablespoon of shallots and the 4 remaining curry leaves; stir-fry just until the shallots are lightly browned and the leaves are crisp.

Divide the fish curry among individual plates; immediately top each portion with the hot garnish of shallots and curry leaves.

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Recipe Source

From KN Vinod, chef-owner of Indique in the District's Cleveland Park neighborhood.

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.

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