This is a dish that I am not very familiar with when I was young. If not because of the famous “Muthu’s curry” in Singapore, I will not have known this dish. Just like Singapore Bakuteh or pork rib tea, this is one of the entertaining dishes that we as employee must bring our overseas guest to savour. There bound to be one of the slots to eat at the famous restaurant when guests were here. Other than Muthu’s curry due to company’s commitment, I seldom ordered this dish on my own.
While it is not my personal favourite, however, it seems that friends surrounding me like this dish very much. They will always order this dish whenever the restaurant have this dish in the menu. It was so common that Wiki has a detail write up on this dish.
As per Wikipedia:
“Fish head curry is a dish in Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine with Indian and Chinese origins. The head of a red snapper is semi-stewed in a Kerala-style curry with assorted vegetables such as okra and eggplants. It is usually served with either rice or bread, or as a shared dish. Fish head curry or Muri Ghanto is an essential Bengali food item, made with rice and fish heads. The fish used generally is rohu. It is a festive item on Bengali menus, used on occasions like Bhai Phota, Aiburo Bhaat and Saadh. The dish is prepared so that the rice is not completely cooked through, giving it a grainy texture. This dish can easily be called the paella of Bengal. Fish head curry is a dish of relative popularity amongst Malaysians and Singaporeans and tourists there, although it is generally not categorised as cheap hawker fare. A typical fish head curry served in a claypot costs between $10-20 and some of the best can be found in hawker centres and neighbourhood food stalls. The origins of the modern dish began in Singapore, with a chef wanting his South Indian-style food to cater to a wider clientele, notably Chinese customers who considered fish head a special delicacy. Today, restaurants of not only Indian, but Malay, Chinese and Peranakan associations serve variations of this dish.” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_head_curry)
I really do not know why this fish curry dish was associated with fish head. Why not fish fillets? That is also the reason I did not order on my own because I can’t really appreciate fish head as yet, not to mention my other family members. There are meats around the head but to serve kids with such bone loaded meat, I admit I have the difficulty. Having said that, whether fish head or not is irrelevant, home chefs can always used fish fillets. For this illustration, I have used a head, 2 fillets and the tail. I believed I myself will have to finish all the meat around the heads.
I knew it is rather easy to cook this dish. One can always used the Indian fish garam masala or curry powder. I have some at home and initially I thought I wanted to share recipe using this short cut method without mixing my own spices. I stopped and decided to come out with my own spice mix after reading many recipes. I found that no recipe is the same, but there are some common similarities as well. For readers, if you do not want to keep too much spices at all, you can just go to the supermarket and ask for a packet of reasonably priced fish curry powder, not the normal curry powder but the powder for cooking fish curry.
I was extremely pleased with the outcome of this adventure. Taste are familiar and most important of all, my boy and girl did not reject the dish despite the first time trying this dish. One thing good about home preparation is that you can easily adjust the spiciness of the dish. The dish look spicy but it is not. If readers want to have a spicier version, you may want to add at least 10 more chilli padi to the rempah.
WHAT IS REQUIRED
Servings: About 4-6 adult servings
- 3 red cut chilli , deseeded (can be omitted if you are using chilli powder)
- 5 cloves of garlics
- 5 shallots
- 3 cm of ginger
- 1 onion
The above herbs are to be blended together
- 2 tablespoons of turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon of coriander power
- 1 tablespoon of chilli powder
- 1 tablespoon of cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper
The above can be substituted with 4 tablespoons of Fish Garam Masala or Fish curry powder
- 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds
- 1 fish head of at least 500 grams (red snapper prefer though other fish heads are acceptable)
- 1 medium to big egg plant, cut into small pieces
- 4 tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 15-20 medium to small size okra or ladies finger, clean
- 2 sprigs of curry leaves
- 200 ml or 1 packet of thick coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon of assam or tamarind paste mix with 3 tablespoons of water and juice extracted
- 1 teaspoon of chicken stock powder
- Salt to taste
STEPS OF PREPARATION
- Blend red cut chilli, ginger, garlic, shallots and onion until fine. If it cannot be blended as it is, add about 1/4 cup of water to facilitate the blending.
- In a pan, heat up 3 tablespoons of cooking oil, put the blended herbs, the fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds and various powders (or fish garam masala). Stir fry under medium heat until it is aromatic and oil starts to separate out from the rempah or spice mix. Set aside.
- In a pot big enough to house a fish head, add 800 ml to 1 litre of water, add in the aromatic spice mix and the curry leaves, bring to boil. Once it boils, add the egg plant and let it simmer until the egg plant is 50% soft. Add the fish head , follow by tomatoes and okra or ladies finger. Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes until the fish is soft. Before off the heat, add the thick coconut milk, tamarind juice followed by salt and chicken stock powder. Once it boils again, off the heat. Let the fish soaked in the curry gravy for at least 1-2 hours before serving for flavour to develop. The fish is best served with white rice.
This is not a difficult recipe. If you do not want to the keep various powders, just buy the ready made fish curry powder will do. The challenge in this dish is to ensure that the fish is not overcooked and the vegetables are soft. Therefore, sequence of adding the ingredients is important. There is another method of steaming the fish first and added to the vegetable curry. For me, I think this is a simpler method as long as the fish is not overcooked. Note that fish cooked very fast and a 10 minutes simmering is more than enough. The longer your cooked, the less tender it will be. However, it will depend on size of the fish head too.
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