Maunika Gowardhan’s classic coconut fish curry recipe

A staple in every southern Indian household because it is so simple to cook. I like to serve it with rice and cucumber salad. Ask your fishmonger to cut the fish into steaks, as they will do it expertly and ensure that the steaks still hold together with the help of a central bone.

coconut fish curry
Sam Harris


1 tsp ground turmeric
Pinch of salt
Juice of 1⁄2 lime
600g cod, monkfish or sea bass, cut into 3.5cm-thick steaks
60g white onion, roughly chopped
4cm ginger root, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
5 green cardamom pods, whole
2 green chillies, slit lengthways
5-7 curry leaves
100ml water
1⁄2 tsp sugar
Salt, to taste
400ml coconut milk
1 heaped tsp tamarind paste
1⁄2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves, to garnish

  1. Mix 1⁄2 tsp of the ground turmeric with the salt and lime juice and rub into the fish steaks, then set aside. Put the onion, ginger and garlic in a blender and whiz to a smooth fine paste with a splash of water. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-based, nonstick saucepan over a medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and as they begin to sputter, work quickly to add the cardamom pods, green chillies and curry leaves. Add the onion, ginger and garlic paste and fry for 1-2 minutes, then add the remaining ground turmeric, along with the water, sugar and salt. Mix well, then simmer for 1 minute.
  3. Reduce the heat to low, add the fish steaks and let them cook for a further minute. Add the coconut milk, cover and simmer gently for 4-5 minutes until the fish is moist and cooked through. Give the pan a gentle swirl a couple of times to make sure everything is mixed but the fish pieces don’t break up.
  4. Add the tamarind paste, black pepper and fresh coriander and stir well, simmering for 1 minute.
  5. Serve with plain basmati rice and a cucumber salad.

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