Home » Main Dish Recipes » Kerala Fish Curry

Kerala Fish Curry

Kerala Fish Curry combines tender, flaky fish with a rich, fiery sauce. Its flavor comes from a combination of earthy and hot spices and creamy coconut milk.

overhead shot of Kerala fish curry in an earthenware pot with lime wedges on the side.

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Kerala fish curry, or meen kuzhambu, is a staple of Kerala cuisine. This seafood dish is often made with small fish like sardines or anchovies. I like to make it with larger, meatier fish like mackerel, halibut, cod, or even salmon. 

The spicy fish curry usually includes onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, ground red chile, coriander powder, and turmeric powder, along with coconut milk and curry leaves.

You can vary the heat level according to your personal preference by adding more or less chile powder or fresh chiles.

Low angle shot of Kerala fish curry in an earthenware pot with lime wedges on the side.

Why you’ll love Kerala style fish curry

Kerala, sits on the southern coast of India and is known for its idyllic backwaters, stunning beaches, and flavorful, seafood-rich cuisine. Kerala’s cuisine incorporates ingredients and cooking styles from around the country.

Fitting squarely into this culinary landscape, this fish curry is one of the state’s signature dishes.

This simple red fish curry is a great example of Kerala-style cuisine. The fish is braised in a sauce made of ginger, garlic, green chiles, green chilies, dried spices (turmeric, black mustard seed, fenugreek, ground red chile), curry leaves, kokum (or tamarind paste or amchur, mango powder), and coconut milk.

The result is a beguiling dish of delicate, flaky fish braised in a flavorful and fiery spice-laden sauce. A generous splash of rich coconut milk tames the heat.

Overhead shot of ingredients for kerala fish curry.

Ingredients You Need

For the complete list of ingredients with quantities and detailed prep and cooking instructions, please see the recipe card that appears at the end of this post.

Most of the ingredients in Kerala fish curry are easy to find. Here’s what you need:

  • Fish—Use a meaty fish like halibut, cod, or salmon
  • Coconut milk—Use full-fat coconut milk for this curry as it provides the right creaminess and thickens the sauce
  • Oil—You can use any high smoke point oil like avocado oil, coconut oil, or peanut oil
  • Fenugreek seeds—You can buy fenugreek seeds in an Indian market or online
  • Black mustard seeds—Using the whole seeds and toasting them in the oil gives them unique flavor
  • Curry leaves—You can buy these fresh in Indian markets. I sometimes see them frozen at 99 Ranch. If you can’t find them, substitute makrut lime leaves or fresh basil. The flavor won’t be the same, but it will still be delicious.
  • Green chillies—you can use serranos or jalapenos
  • Onion—Red, white, or yellow onion will all work fine in this fish curry, or substitute shallots
  • Garlic-ginger paste—or substitute half and half minced fresh ginger and minced fresh garlic
  • Kokum (Garcinia Indica, see below for information), tamarind pulp, tamarind paste, amchur powder (dried green mango), or even lime juice in a pinch)
  • Tomato—1 large diced tomato is perfect, or substitute 1 cup of canned diced tomato
  • Turmeric powder or ground turmeric—This adds both intense color and a distinctive flavor
  • Coriander powder or ground coriander—For earthy sweetness
  • Kashmiri red chilli powder or any ground red chili—You can adjust the quantity to suit your personal preference for heat
  • Cilantro—Use freshly chopped cilantro

What is Kokum?

Kokum, or Garcinia Indica, is a tropical fruit from India. It has a unique sweet-sour flavor and makes frequent appearances in dishes from Kerala including puli-kadala curry, sambar curry, and nei-imittu curry.

Kokum is difficult to find in the US, so I’ve offered a few possible substitutes. Tamarind, tamarind paste, or amchur powder (mango powder) are available in Asian markets and some supermarkets. The flavors are different, but they all add the necessary acidity and make decent substitutes.

For this Kerala Fish Curry, you can substitute the freshly squeezed juice of a lime.

How to Make It

For the complete list of ingredients with quantities and detailed prep and cooking instructions, please see the recipe card that appears at the end of this post.

Despite having a slightly longer ingredient list, this Kerala Fish Curry recipe is easy to make. Here’s how:

  1. Soak the kokum or tamarind, if using, in warm water. After about 15 minutes, squeeze the fruit into the soaking water, reserving the liquid. Discard the fruit.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet, and heat over medium-high heat. Add the fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, and curry leaves.
  3. Once the leaves start to splutter, add the green chilies and onions.
  4. Next, add the ginger paste, garlic paste, and tomatoes and saute.
  5. Now add the salt, turmeric powder, coriander powder, and chile powder and continue to cook.
  6. Add the fish along with the kokum or tamarind soaking water, if using, cover the skillet, and simmer until the fish is cooked through.
  7. Finally, add the coconut milk, and the amchur powder or tamarind paste if using in place of kokum/tamarind, and let the curry simmer for a few more minutes.
  8. Just before serving, garnish with the cilantro.
overhead shot of Kerala fish curry in an earthenware pot with lime wedges on the side.

What to Serve with Kerala Style Fish Curry

Serve spicy curry with roti, dosa, appam, or uttapam or basmati rice and vegetables.

Yield: Serves 4

Kerala Fish Curry

overhead shot of Kerala fish curry in an earthenware pot with lime wedges on the side.

Kerala Fish Curry combines tender, flaky fish with flavorful sauce made from a combination of earthy and fiery spices and rich coconut milk.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 kokum (see note for substitution information)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 5 or 6 curry leaves
  • 2 to 3 green chiles (such as serranos or jalapenos)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 ½ teaspoons red chile powder (use more or less depending on your preference for spice)
  • 1 pound meaty fish (halibut, cod, salmon, etc.)
  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Instructions

  1. Soak the kokum or tamarind in about 1/4 cup of warm water for 15 minutes, then squeeze the fruit to release any liquid, adding that to the soaking water. Reserve the soaking water and discard the fruit.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet, and heat over medium-high heat. Add the fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, and curry leaves.
  3. Once the leaves start to splutter, add the green chilies and onions and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  4. Next, add the ginger paste, garlic paste, and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Now add the salt, turmeric, coriander, and chile powder and cook, stirring constantly, for another 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Add the fish along with the kokum or tamarind soaking water, if using, cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.
  7. Finally, add the coconut milk and the tamarind paste or amchur powder if subsittuting for the kokum/tamarind, and let the curry simmer for a few more minutes.
  8. Just before serving, stir in lime juice if using as a substitute for the kokum/tamarind, and garnish with the cilantro.

Notes

1. If you don't have kokum, you can substitute 2 to 3 tablespoons of tamarind pulp, soaked and squeezed as described for the kokum, or 2 tablespoons tamarind paste, 1 tablespoon amchur powder, or the freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime.

Nutrition Information

Yield

4

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 404Total Fat 25gSaturated Fat 13gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 11gCholesterol 65mgSodium 735mgCarbohydrates 16gFiber 2gSugar 7gProtein 33g

Nutrient values are estimates only. Variations may occur due to product availability and manner of food preparation. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin, freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

PIN THIS RECIPE FOR LATER!

Follow Me: @allwaysdelicious and tag #allwaysdelicious

By on March 21st, 2022

About Robin Donovan


Hi, I’m Robin! I am a full-time food blogger, recipe developer, and cookbook author. I spend my days cooking, writing about, and photographing food.

I’m the author of more than 40 cookbooks, including Ramen for Beginners, 5 Ingredient Cooking for Two, Sushi at Home, The Baking Cookbook for Teens, and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine.

My food writing has also been featured in major print and online pubications including Cooking Light, Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and other popular publications.

More about Robin

More posts by this author.

2 thoughts on “Kerala Fish Curry”

  1. I watched the fishermen in Kerela with their huge iconic nets catch fish, this dish has transported me back to Kerela – delicious!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to Recipe