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Malaysian Fish Curry with Tomato and Okra

A Malaysian-inspired fish curry recipe from Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey. Showcasing mackerel, alongside a mix of okra, aubergine, tomatoes and coriander leaves.

From the book


In Malaysia and Singapore, this is normally fish head curry. Initially I was keen to include it exactly like that but gauging from the reaction of many of my friends, if I didn’t modify the recipe, it would never be used. So I’ve written it using whole mackerel instead; it would work equally well with some small bass or even gurnard too. It looks really special as I’ve separately made a basic curry, with its deep orange colour from fresh turmeric and kashmiri chillies, and then poured it over the fish laid out head to tail in a roasting tin. But if you are adventurous, do try making this with fish heads, such as salmon, cod or, if you can get them, grouper. Some of the meat in the head of a fish is extraordinarily good, especially that found in the cheeks, and I confess to an enthusiasm for fish eyes too. I can only say they are deliciously fatty. Try asking your fishmonger to save you some fish heads. They are always available if there is a Chinese community near by. Per person you will need a head weighing about 300g, but if they are bigger than this get your fishmonger to halve them with a cleaver so they sit in the sauce easily and cook evenly.

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4 x 300g prepared mackerel
3 tbsp vegetable oil
250g onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 quantity fish curry paste (see ingredients and method below)
24 curry leaves (about 2 sprigs)
1 x 250g aubergine
400ml coconut milk
2 red and 2 green medium-hot chillies, cut on the diagonal into 1cm-thick slices
175g okra
3 medium-sized tomatoes, each cut into 6 wedges
1 quantity tamarind water (see ingredients and method below)
Leaves from a small bunch of coriander
For the fish curry paste:
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
15g finely grated fresh coconut
7-10g dried kashmiri chillies, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, drained
25g garlic, roughly chopped
25g peeled ginger, roughly chopped
1 tbsp turmeric powder
1 fat lemongrass stalk, core roughly chopped
1 tsp palm sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
For the tamarind water:
60g tamarind pulp
150ml hand-hot water

Essential kit

You will need a mini food processor.


First make your curry paste. Put the coriander, cumin, fennel seeds and black peppercorns into a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Tip the powder into a mini food processor and add the coconut, chillies, garlic, ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, sugar and vegetable oil. Blend to a smooth paste.

Next make the tamarind water. Take the tamarind pulp and put it into a bowl with around 150ml hand-hot water. Work the paste with your fingers until it has broken down and the seeds have been released. Strain the slightly syrupy mixture through a fine sieve into another bowl and discard the fibrous material left behind. The water is now ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Sprinkle the fish with salt inside and out and set aside for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, sprinkle with salt and fry until it begins to brown.

Lower the heat, add the curry paste and curry leaves and continue to fry gently for another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, slice the aubergine lengthways into 4 wedges, then each wedge across into slices 1cm thick. Add the coconut milk, 500ml water, chillies, okra, aubergine, tomatoes, tamarind water and 2 teaspoons salt and simmer for 15 minutes.

Put the mackerel side by side in a deep roasting tin in which they fit quite snugly. Pour over the curry sauce (it should almost cover the fish), cover tightly with foil and transfer to the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the fish are cooked through. Remove, season to taste with more salt if necessary, and garnish with a sprinkling of coriander leaves.


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