Monday, June 25, 2012

Fragrant Bombay Fish Curry

When I first got into the humanitarian line of work, one of my first work trips was tp India. I was visiting projects in the States of Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for a small NGO and squeezed in a couple of days in Delhi and Mumbai (or Bombay as it was still ok to call it back then). Wide-eyed would be an understatement. I was so madly excited by everything – by India, by my job, by all the people I met. And of course, by the food. That trip sparked my life-long love affair with Indian food. There is one dish that stands out from that first trip and it’s a fish curry that I ate on my last night in Mumbai. I can’t remember where I ate it or what it was called but I remember being bowled over by it.

Over ten years on, I had to find a way to recreate it. Given how much time has elapsed since, I had to summon some amazing Proustian powers of sensory recollection to recall the flavours and figure out the ingredients…and then revert to the more modern day technique of googling. It turns out that there is such a thing as Bombay fish curry. I made it according to the recipes I found but it wasn’t quite right. It needed tweaking to get to the taste combination that has stayed on my lips all these years – more tamarind, less chilli (just a little heat), a touch of sugar, and fresh ginger. This version is it. When I  tasted it, I was suddenly ten years younger and back in Bombay.

There is something magical about this dish. It’s light but so fragrant – the cinnamon and cloves are powerful  and make it taste of lands far far away. The tamarind gives a bit of a punch and the coconut mellows everything out. I would be proud to serve this at any dinner party.

Fish curry cooking in my wok

Time: 30 mins + 30 mins marinating time
Rating: A little effort for the paste, the rest is super easy
Serves: 4


800g white fish fillets (I used flounder but cod, haddock, or barracuda would do)
300ml Coconut milk
1 small onion
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt

For the paste:
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp paprika
2 garlic cloves
1 inch knob ginger
3 small green chillies
1.5 tbsp tamarind paste
3 tbsp oil

Small bunch fresh coriander to garnish
Basmati rice to serve


  1. Start by making the paste. In a pan dry roast the dry spices (the first 5 paste ingredients) for about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly until they smell fragrant. Grind all the spices in a grinder or mortar and pestle.
  2. Cut the fish into large chunks about 2 inches long, remove any bones and place in a dish. Coat the fish with about half of the paste and rub it in evenly using your fingers. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. If you are serving with rice, put the rice on as you are taking the fish out of the fridge so it will be ready at the same time as the fish.
  4. Once the fish has marinated, heat a little oil in a pan and fry the pieces in batches so gently browned – about 30 seconds on each side.
  5. Remove the fish pieces from the pan once browned, and set aside on a plate.
  6. Finely chop the onion and fry in the same pan used for the fish, adding a drop more oil if needed for about 2 minutes until lightly browned. Add the remaining paste and then the coconut milk, salt and the sugar and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Gently add the fish, making sure all the pieces are covered with the sauce. Cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes until the fish is flaky but not tough.
  8. Sprinkle with freshly chopped coriander to garnish and serve with basmati rice.


  1. Love curry. i will definitely try out this recipe for my wife and me (and will see about the kids).

  2. Thanks :-) Hope you enjoy it...impressed if you get the kids to taste it!

  3. I have been travelling in India (backpacking!) and since then I love eating indian food at least once a week. I tried meat, chicken, vegetarian but never fish. A question: does the taste change if I do not use tamarind? I am not keen on it. rita cooks italian

    1. Fish curries are a favourite of mine - the fish absorbs the flavours really nicely. As for the tamarind, it gives a little sourness. Maybe replace with lime juice instead for the sourness and a bit of tomato ketchup to thicken. Sounds crazy but I think that would work nicely!

  4. sounds really good and it's a an easy it

  5. Wow, this looks delicious! I have never had fish curry before, but I definitely want to try!

  6. You've taken me to India with this post! And I can almost smell that curry! Thanks for stopping by my way too.