Malaysian Fish Curry

Traditional Malay Fish Curry recipe, featured on

Describing curries is like describing Malaysian cuisine - diverse, complex, colorful.

In Malaysia, curries can be loosely categorized into three styles - Malay, Straits Chinese, and Indian. Loosely because there are endless varieties from the fusion of spices and flavors in our multicultural country. No more so than in my foodie island of Penang.

To show you how to make a delicious Malaysian style curry, we met up with Nazlina Hussin, a popular culinary guide in Penang.

Cooking class Penang with Nazlina Hussin of Pickles and Spices

Nazlina runs a full-time cooking class which has been voted the #1 attraction in Penang by TripAdvisor. With a large following of students including chefs, restaurant owners, food journalists, families and foodies alike, no wonder Atul Kochhar, the first Indian Michelin star chef, also took up her class to learn how to make the iconic Malaysian dish - Nasi Lemak.

A spice enthusiast and passionate Malay cook, Nazlina is a wealth of knowledge (and a ball of energy!). From a tour of a local morning wet market, to the kitchen, she is always willing to share tips on how to use spices in cooking, and even cleaning. My favorite are the uses of tamarind pulp to rub the odor off fish, and to shine up the silverware and the sink.

Cooking with the exuberant Nazlina is a bit like cooking with my mom in the kitchen. She zips around, assigning you tasks and making sure you don’t slack off. The longer you take, the later lunch will be served.

“Do not ask me how long the dish will take to cook. Cooking is not like baking. You have to judge by sight, smell and texture” Nazlina quipped. Something my mom would say.

pounding spices with mortar and pestle for curry paste

Armed with a mini mortar and pestle, I pound the shallots and garlic together.

Once the tedious work of gutting the fish, mincing up the lemongrass, and pounding the spices are finished, the fun finally begins - cooking the curry.

Cooking malaysian FISH CURRY on wok

The highly aromatic mixture of fenugreek, cumin, fennel, mustard seeds and urah dhal, and its combination with fresh curry leaves and pounded garlic and shallots, will make you turn the fire up a little bit more than it should just so lunch is ready a few minutes earlier.

Cooking Fish Curry for Nazlina cooking class in Penang

Simmer the paste until oil floats to the top, and watch for the color of the oil to transform to a velvety red.

Traditional Malay Fish Curry recipe, featured on

Then you add the fish, toss in the okra and tomatoes and other vegetables and herbs, and pour in the tamarind juice for that contrasting sourish-sweetness flavor.  Finally, stir in coconut milk to give it body and richness.

Traditional Malay Fish Curry recipe, featured on

 Truly a dish to explore - Malaysian Fish Curry.

Traditional Malay Fish Curry recipe, featured on

Malaysian Fish Curry
contributed by Nazlina Hussin of Pickles and Spices

What you’ll need:
1kg mackerel or fish steaks
75g fish curry powder mixed in 400 ml water
300 ml coconut milk
100 g shallots (or onion), peel and cut lengthwise
1 head of garlic
1 inch ginger, cut into matchsticks
1 torch ginger flower or bunga kantan, chopped finely (if it is a large one, use only half)
1 pressed cup of Vietnamese mint leaves(or normal mint)
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped finely
6 stalks of curry leaves
2 tbsp tamarind paste soaked in 400 ml water, then strained, and pulp and seeds removed
3 big tomatoes, cut into wedges
6 okra, remove top and make a slit halfway
4 green chilis, cut lengthwise in quarters
150ml cooking oil
Salt and sugar to taste

Spice mixture:
1 tsp fenugreek mixture (halba champur), in a ration of 1:1 of fenugreek, cumin, fennel, mustard seeds and urah dhal

1. Pound shallots and garlic together until fine.
2. Heat oil until it is slightly smoky, add in the fenugreek spice mixture. Let it simmer for a few seconds. 3. Add pounded shallots & garlic, and then curry leaves and ginger.
4. When fragrant, add in the curry paste. Use low heat to simmer the paste until oil floats to the top.
5. Add in fish and all vegetables, together with tamarind juice, torch ginger, lemongrass and Vietnamese mint. Simmer slowly.
6. Once one side of the fish is cooked, turn over the fish and then add in coconut milk
7. Simmer another five minutes or so to let things mingle. Add more mint if you wish.
8. Season with enough salt and sugar.