Fish Curry | Meen Kuzhambu | Fish Gravy Tamil Style | Fish Curry Recipe on

Growing up, Saturdays would always be fish (and other seafood) days: piping hot meen kuzhambu with red rice or white rice or finger millet balls (ragi balls), accompanied with fried fish (usually the 3-ingredient fish fry) or fried prawns. Lunchtime was simply glorious! We’d enjoy polishing off the fresh, tender fish in a piquant, yet tangy fish curry and rice, whilst biting into the firm and crispy fried fish every now and then. Fingers were licked, lips were smacked, second and third helpings had, and the heads, tails and roe fought for.

Ah, what fun. The preparation though, took hours. First, my father would travel far and buy from only the best fish stalls. Then my mother spent the good part of the mid-morning descaling, cleaning and cutting the fish (our fishmongers do that for us now) on a special knife that stuck out of its stand at a 60º angle. She held it down with her foot while she held the slippery fish firmly in her hands as she descaled them. If you happened to go for a drink of water to the kitchen you’d be sure to get some scales on you! Saturdays were usually spent outside playing games with friends, so a trip to the kitchen for water was inevitable. All of the fish parts that weren’t going to be eaten, like the gills, were left outside on a piece of newspaper for the local cats. Meanwhile, my father would help in chopping and preparing some of the masala. And then both of them would work in perfect harmony to produce this outstanding Tamil style fish gravy.

Fish Curry | Meen Kuzhambu | Fish Gravy Tamil Style | Fish Curry Recipe on

The effort they put in, showed, and we kids would gleefully and deliriously slurp our meen kuzhambu along with the màu sadam. We just couldn’t get enough of it! With so much food inside us, we’d nap, dreaming of dinner. Ah, those were the days… and I do miss them!

This fish curry recipe is my mother’s as it was her mother’s. It is usually made in an earthen pot. Like an iron pot, a clay pot holds in heat long after the heat is turned off. In fact the fish gravy made in a clay pot would continue to boil and simmer for a few minutes. The fish gravy would then continue to cook for a long time thanks to the heat from the pot. And then, in an hour, it’d still be hot and ready to eat!

Fish Curry | Meen Kuzhambu | Fish Gravy Tamil Style | Fish Curry Recipe on

Adjust the chilly according to the amount of heat your can handle. This fish curry recipe is not too spicy, but it doesn’t skimp on it either. I do hope you enjoy this family favourite. Let the chilly- and coriander-rich masala tickle your nose as your fry it, and then you can smell the lovely aroma of roasted coconut cooking. Don’t worry, the chilly won’t hold all of its bite — not with the tomatoes and the tamarind. The tomatoes and the tamarind work their tangy and acidic magic and blend the spices beautifully and give the fish that bite. Before long, the distinct and heady smell of this gravy will beckon your stomach.

Fish Curry | Meen Kuzhambu | Fish Gravy Tamil Style | Fish Curry Recipe on

Fish Curry | Meen Kuzhambu | Fish Gravy Tamil Style | Fish Curry Recipe
A lovely coconut flavour marries with a coriander-rich masala, and tomatoes and the tamarind work their tangy and acidic magic and blend the spices beautifully and give the fish that bite. This fish curry recipe will have you polishing off the fresh, tender fish in a piquant, yet tangy fish gravy in no time.
Cuisine: South Indian
Servings: 12 people
  • 1 kg (2 lbs) fish, cut into 2- to 4- inch pieces
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 150 g coconut or 1/2 big coconut cut into small thin pieces or grated
  • 4 medium tomatoes (350 g)
  • 4-5 tablespoons sesame or sunflower oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 260-280 g onions, chopped (1 big or 2 medium onions); you can even use shallots
  • 20-30 curry leaves
  • 4 big green chillies (or 2 small chillies) slit lengthwise and deseeded (if you don’t have green chillies, increase the red chilly powder by 1/2 a teaspoon)
  • 3-4 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
  • 1 teaspoon red chilly powder
  • 7 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1 small ball of tamarind 2 cm diameter soaked in hot water
  • 3/4 teaspoon fenugreek powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 cup coriander fronds, finely chopped and tightly packed
  1. After you wash the fish, sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt over it and rub it in so all the pieces are evenly coated. Keep it in the fridge.
  2. To a heavy bottomed vessel or pot over medium heat, add the coconut pieces or shredded coconut and stir until they just start turning golden, and you get that lovely roasted coconut aroma.
  3. Turn off the heat and Empty it all onto a plate or newspaper and keep it under the fan so it cools quickly.
  4. When cool (or even when warm) put it into the mixer-grinder, add just enough water to cover the coconut and grind it until it is sort of fine.
  5. Cut the tomatoes into 2-3 pieces and add them to the grinder and grind until the mixture is fine.
  6. Return the pot to the heat and add the oil.
  7. When it is hot, add the fenugreek seeds and wait until they start changing colour.
  8. Then add the onions, green chillies and curry leaves and sauté until the onions turn light pink.
  9. Now add the ginger garlic paste and sauté till their raw smell disappears and the onions start to take on a golden hue.
  10. Then, add the turmeric, red chilly, and coriander powders.
  11. After they’ve been in the pot for 10 seconds, add 1/2 cup water.
  12. As the water evaporates, the mixture gets thick and you can see the oil rise to the top. Keep stirring. Once the masala starts to stick to the bottom of the pot (in spite of all that stirring), pour another 1/2 cup of water and stir it about and whatever is stuck will easily come unstuck.
  13. So, add 1/2 cup water, wait till the oil rises to the top and the masala starts sticking to the bottom of the vessel, before you add water again. Repeat until you’ve added water 5 times and stirred to get it unstuck.
  14. The fifth time after you’ve added water, and the masala start sticking to the bottom of the pot, add the coconut and tomato paste, and stir.
  15. Add about 3 cups of water, raise the flame, cover the pot, and let it all cook for 15 minutes.
  16. Lower the flame and add the fish pieces.
  17. Also add the tamarind juice too — you’ll have to mash the tamarind pulp with your fingers and then run the resulting tamarind juice through a sieve.
  18. Cover and turn the heat up high and let the fish cook for 10 minutes.
  19. Lower the flame again, and sprinkle the fenugreek and cumin powders, and salt over the gravy. Gently mix the top portion of the fish curry and cover it. Do not stir the fish about too. Fish that is tender will break easily at this point.
  20. Let the fish curry simmer in the low heat for 5 minutes.
  21. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the finely chopped coriander fronds on top and cover.
  22. Serving: Let it rest for a good 1 hour before you serve it so the flavours intensify. Serve hot with rice or finger millet balls.

Related Links:

3-Ingredient Fish Fry South Indian Style (not just spice)

Finger Millet Balls | Màu Sadam | Ragi Muddè | Ragi Kali | Ragi Balls (not just spice)

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