Keralan Fish Curry (and a lime flavoured discovery)


Coconut is definitely up there in my top 5 favourite ingredients…go ahead and strand me on a dessert island with nothing but this hairy white fleshed treat (FYI..coconut oil also makes a great hair conditioner….I diverge). Keralan curries are notoriously flavoured with coconut along with the stereotypical scents of whole and ground spices. The curries here are different from the Northern region and much fresher for my tastes anyway. This fish curry is spicy but feels light and cleansing. Not stodgy and firey like some can often be.

As for my lime discovery. Once n a while I’ll have a foodie discovery and find an ingredient or cooking tool that just makes me smile and feel inspired. To name a handful off the top of my head…my first taste of black pudding, my first chai tea latte and perhaps (weirdly) my first devils-on-horseback one Christmas eve. I’m unsure whether its the low expectations of a food that make it all the more magical or the moment in which you eat it when you are desperately hungry which make it all the more enjoyable but everyone can name a few times they’ve eaten something memorable. So, fresh Kaffir lime leaves. I’ve only ever used the dried variety as often specified in recipes. After forking out my hard earned pennies for a tiny pot of these dried and parched leaves packaged pretentiously in fancy packaging, I pleasingly discovered the fresh type. Oh my. What a difference one green and chlorophyll packed leaf can make to a dish. I bought a packet of fresh lime leaves from my local Sainsburys (not cheaply when you think you’re buying leaves?) But WELL worth it. Popping just one (be gentle, their powerful) into my simmering and creamy coconut curry sauce for a matter of 15-20 minutes infused it with a fragrant, fresh and amazing flavour. After cutting up a lime for garnish, I aptly threw it aside- not needed here!

So my foodie followers. Find fresh leaves where you can and don’t skimp on them if you want the amazing flavour.

Serves 3-4

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 small red chilli, chopped finely
  • 2cm piece of ginger, grated finely
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • Bunch coriander, chopped
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 200ml water (or see tip below for a light stock*)
  • 1 Kaffir lime leaf OR ½ juice of a lime
  • Handful of desiccated coconut
  • 400gor about 2 white fish fillets, chopped into large 2inch chunks
  • 12 raw tiger prawns (if bought in their shells- see tip below*)
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • Handful of sugar snaps/mange tout/green beans enough for (3-4 people)
  1. Heat a little oil in a heavy based pan. Add the mustard, fenugreek and coriander seed and fry until beginning to pop and smell fragrant.
  2. Add the chopped onion and fry on a lowish heat for about 5 minutes until really soft and infused with the spicy flavour.
  3. Once soft, add the chilli and cook for a few more minutes before adding the ginger and doing the same.
  4. Add the dry spices and cook out for 1 minute or so.
  5. Add the coconut milk, the stock and that magic lime leaf.
  6. Simmer gently for about 10-15 minutes. You want to allow enough time to infuse the flavours of the spices and the lime but reduce the sauce until thicker and creamy.
  7. Once nearly at the desired consistency, add a handful or two of dessicated coconut and a handful or chopped coriander, saving most for garnish. Add the tamarind paste for sweetness.
  8. Throw in your vege but don’t overcook- keep it crisp.
  9. Add the fish and turn the heat down to a low simmer so you don’t boil it. Poach the fish gently in the sauce for about 3-4 minutes (don’t be tempted to overdo it- fish will cook so easily, you could even take it off the heat and leave it and it would cook). Add the prawns for the final few minutes until the fish turns opaque and just begins to flake. (If not using a Kaffir lime leaf, squeeze in ½ the juice of your lime here)
  10. Serve warm in large bowls with rice or naan bread. Garnish with extra chopped coriander and sliced spring onions if you like. A handful or two of cashew nuts wouldn’t go amiss here either.

A few tips

  • Keep the fish chunky as you don’t want it to break up too much. Please don’t be tempted to cook the fish for too long. You want it just flaking but still moist.
  • Similarly, don’t cook the hell out of the prawns. Overcooking can turn the juiciest and biggest of prawns into tiny, shrived and dry mouthfuls. They only need a minute or so until just turned pink
  • ***If you buy your prawns shelled, don’t throw the shells away! Use that amazing flavour. Feel the shell (and heads if you’re lucky) from the prawns and set them aside. Fry the shells in a little oil until turning pink. Add a splash or white wine and simmer. Add some boiling water and simmer for about 5-10 minutes until fragrant. The amazing flavour from the shells will really make a difference. Sieve and discard the shells and use 200ml of this stock for your curry.
  • Buy fresh Kaffir lime leaves- see above for reasons
  • Use whole spices- they’ll really make a difference
  • Use full fat coconut milk- it will be creamier and more indulgent. Light will work too but it may need further reduction.

And finally, enjoy…and don’t rub chili in your eye like I’ve just done.