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How to Cook Curry Fish

Fish head curry is one of the favourite food consumed by peoples of South-east Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Generally the recipes for cooking this dish are quite similar in these three countries, although there are slight variations. Fish head curry is a common home-cooked item and is also very popular on the menu of many hawker centres and restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore: this is because people of these two nations enjoy the aroma, spiciness and thick gravy characteristic of fish head curry, especially when eaten with rice, the staple food of most of their inhabitants.

In this article I would like to introduce one recipe to cook this great dish.


1 large fish (600 to 800 g) – I would suggest the red snapper or in lieu, any large scaly fish with thick flesh.

2 big onions, peeled and chopped

2 medium-sized tomatoes, cut into halves.

1-2 cinnamon sticks

4-5 slices of of ginger (about 2 cm by 3 cm)

some shallots and garlic, washed, peeled and crushed

3 tsp cooking oil

5 tsp of fish curry powder (available in most markets and supermarkets)

some tamarind seeds (again, easily available in pre-packed, processed form, usually in paste form)

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp fine salt

1 tsp coarse salt

2 stalks of lemon grass, smashed

3-4 eggplants or brinjal or Lady’s fingers

concentrated coconut milk, about 100 cc


A. Preparing the fish

1. The fish is washed and its entrails removed. It is thoroughly rinsed with water and then sprinkled with coarse salt. The head is then cut off – at just below the gills – using a good, sharp kitchen knife.

2. The body is then placed on a large chopping board and the flesh removed – filleted. Usually the skin is not removed. The left-over bony remains of the fish are put aside, separate from the the fillets and the head.

B. Preparing and cooking the fish head curry.

1. Into a pot (a large clay pot would be ideal) add 2-3 tsp cooking oil and heat over medium flame.

2. Ginger, shallot and garlic are added to the simmering oil and the mixture stirred briskly.

3. Curry powder – which has been placed in a small container and water added to form a paste – is now added to the mixture.

4. Cleaned tamarind paste and cinnamon sticks may now be added into the pot. Mix well.

5. When the mixture is about to boil, add more water (about 300 cc ) and heat the pot over small flame for 5-7 minutes, or until the contents are about to boil. In the interim, place the lid over the pot but take care not to allow the liquid to spill over due to overheating.

6. The bony remains of the fish are now added and continue to cook the broth/curry soup for another 5 minutes.

7. When cooled, the contents of the curry soup is strained using a large strainer. The bones, the tamarind seed and other solids may be discarded. (However, if you don’t mind the bones and other ingredients like ginger, tamarind seeds etc that might interfere with your taking of the fish head curry, you don’t have to carry out this step; but I would strongly advise you to do the straining as this will make eating the fish head curry more hassle-free and enjoyable.)

8. The strained curry broth is now replaced into the pot and reheated, and tomatoes, lemon grass and chopped onions added. continue to heat the pot.

9. When the broth is near boiling, fish fillets and the fish head are added. The head of the red snapper is quite fleshy and so must not be discarded.

10. Slices of Lady’s fingers or eggplants/brinjals are now added to the broth. These should cook easily in the boiling mixture.

11. With the lid placed over the pot, it is heated for a further 5-7 minutes to cook the fish meat thoroughly.

12. Sugar and fine salt are added to taste.

13. Finally, about 100 cc of concentrated coconut milk is added to the curry broth. It should appear quite ‘thick’ and reddish and smells aromatic because of the coconut milk and all the other spices.

The fish head curry is now ready and could be served with rice. It may be a little too spicy for those not used to eating curry, but if you love spicy food, this is one food item you should give a try.