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Kerala Red Fish Curry

When I think of home. When I think of Kerala. THIS is the recipe that comes to mind. With its nostalgic, bright red color, tangy tamarind flavor, and perfect level of heat, this classic Kerala Red Fish Curry recipe is truly a pot of joy.

Growing up, I’d watch my mom freshly scale and filet a whole salmon or king fish. While she prepped the fish, the kudam puli (malabar tamarind aka garcinia cambogia) would be soaking in warm water and then she’d move into chopping up the fresh ingredients. My favorite part of this dish was its preparation in our old black, clay meenchatti.

A chatti is an unglazed clay pot. Similar to why people love cooking with cast iron or woks, it holds it’s flavor like a fine wine over time. Because the chattis are unglazed, it’s able to retain and circulate moisture through the dish making the fish extremely flavorful. Eventually, I will do a video on how to season your chatti and tips on cooking without. If you do not have a chatti, you can still make this dish in a regular pot or dutch oven.

This used to be one of those recipes I was so intimidated to make because it is such a staple dish in our household. I’ve broken this down so that it hopefully makes Indian recipes easy to follow and easy for you to recreate.

If you decide to make this recipe or have any questions about how to make it, head over to my instagram @thefamiliarkitchen so we can connect and I can see how it turned out for you!

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INGREDIENTS

  • Salmon or King Fish (you can use boneless), 2 lbs, cut into medium cubes/chunks
  • Kudam Puli/Malabar Tamarind/Kokum, 4 pieces
  • Coconut Oil, 2 tbsp
  • Mustard Seeds, 1 tsp
  • Fenugreek Seeds, 1/2 tsp
  • Curry Leaves, 1 sprig (10-12 leaves)
  • Ginger, 1 1/2 inch, minced
  • Garlic Cloves, 5, minced
  • Shallots or Red Onion, 3 shallots or 1 red onion, finely diced
  • Green Chili Pepper, 3, diced
  • Red Chili Powder, 1 tbsp
  • Coriander Powder, 1 tbsp
  • Turmeric Powder, 1 tsp
  • Tomato Paste, 1/4 cup
  • Salt to Taste

HOW TO MAKE IT

Soak the tamarind. Wash the tamarind pieces first and then soak it in warm water. Set aside.

Season the oil. In your chatti or pot on medium high heat, add in the coconut oil. Once the oil is melted and hot, add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds pop, add in the ginger, garlic, shallots, and green chili peppers. Cook this until the ingredients soften and lose its rawness.

Form the gravy base. Now add in the red chili, coriander, and turmeric powder. Mix this quickly so the spices don’t burn. Pour in the tomato paste. Drain the tamarind (reserve the water) and add into the pot along with all of the fish.

Cook the fish. Now that the fish is in the pot, DO NOT mix it. If you move the fish too much, it could cause it to break up into pieces. I recommend using a soft silicone spatula if you need to move the fish or the best thing to do is rotate the pot. Keep this covered on a low boil (medium to medium-low heat) for about 15-20 minutes, checking periodically to see if enough water has extracted from the fish. If there isn’t enough moisture from the fish then add some of the tamarind water and/or warm water to the pot, just enough to barely submerge the fish. Boil this until the gravy slightly thickens. Taste for salt and done!

Notes

  1. You can use ginger garlic paste (about 2 tbsp) instead of fresh minced
  2. In place of tomato paste, you can use about a 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
  3. You can buy the tamarind online or in select Indian grocery stores. It’s commonly found under the name “kokum.” The brand SWAD makes a good one.

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When I was a kid, one of the first things my mom taught me how to make was a hot cup of chaya (homestyle tea). It was like a rite of passage…and an invitation to her colorful, spice-filled kitchen. The most exciting part back then was daringly pouring the steamy, caramel-colored goodness from one steel cup to another so I could cool it down and get that classic, frothy texture to sit atop the tea. It’s a recollection of my childhood every time I do it. That same magical feeling still shines through my recipes, both new and old. There’s just nothing like creating a dish so full of evocative flavor and love. It’s what gives me joy and the inspiration to share this experience with you every day! It’s something I hope offers you adventure, a little piece of home, and maybe even something a little familiar.

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