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Fragrant Ceylonese Fish Curry

From Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman, Terrific Pacific Cookbook

Serves: 4


  • 4 firm white fish steaks, such as snapper or halibut, about 6 oz. each, 3/4-inch thick
  • 1.5 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp. ginger, chopped
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, discard bottom, tough outer leaves, chopped
  • 2 med. tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small fresh hot chile, green or red, seeded, chopped
  • 2.5 tbs. peanut oil
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1.5 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 c. coconut milk
  • 1 c. fish stock
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice


  1. Rub fish with mixture of turmeric and salt. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  2. Combine onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, tomato, and chile in a food processor and process to a paste, adding a little oil if necessary.
  3. In a skillet large enough to hold fish in one layer, heat 2 tbs. oil over medium-high heat. Add the fish and cook for about 1 minute per side. Remove fish and drain on paper towels.
  4. Add remaining oil to the skillet and heat over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Add coriander, cumin, and curry powder and stir for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add onion paste and cook, stirring, until it no longer tastes raw, about 7 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until mixture thickens a little, about 7 minutes. Add lemon juice.
  5. Add the fish and gently stir so it is submerged in the liquid. Cover and simmer over low heat until fish is cooked through and flakes when tested with a fork, about 6 minutes. Do not overcook. Transfer fish to a serving dish, and spoon sauce over it.


  • I used red snapper fillets.
  • My lemongrass was a bit old and stringy, and the food processor didn't do a good job of chopping it. It would have been better to hand chop it very fine. (I wonder whether a better food processor would work better.)
  • I cooked this a couple of hours ahead of time, then let it sit in pan to absorb flavors, then slowly re-warmed it. I didn't initially undercook the fish to pre-compensate for rewarming, but the damage was minimal.

Keywords: Sri Lanka, Fish.