Recipe Sleuth: Rasika’s Kerala Fish Curry

Chef Vikram Sunderam shares a perfect end-of-winter dish.

Kerala fish curry, similar to the one from chef Vikram Sunderam, makes for a lighter winter comfort dish. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

The tail end of winter is tough for cooking. Lingering cold demands comfort food, but we’re feeling bogged down after all those bowls of chili and mac and cheese. A perfect compromise: this spicy fish curry from Rasika toque Vikram Sunderam. The robust flavors prove filling, but fresh fish makes for a lighter meal. The reader who requested the recipe referred to it as “transcendent.”

“The curry, oh goodness, the curry,” writes the reader after sampling it as a Restaurant Week special. “I wanted to drink it, I wanted to bathe in it, I wanted to be it. Such amazing depth and strength—the bright acid of tomatoes, a hint of chili and cumin—while managing to not overwhelm the fish. . . . If you could see about getting a recipe, I would be forever in your debt.”

Hard to argue with that! Note that you’ll need fresh or previously frozen curry leaves for the recipe, which can be found at Indian grocery stores, such as Ginger & Spice Market in Alexandria.

Kerala Fish Curry

Serves four


2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chopped Spanish onion
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 cup water
1½ cups chopped plum tomatoes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 sprig fresh curry leaves, available at Indian groceries
30 ounces coconut milk
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
4 skinless filets of grouper or halibut, about two pounds
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro


Cut the grouper filets into smaller pieces (about 2 ounces each) and set aside.

Set a small pan over medium heat and dry-roast the spices for about 2 to 3 minutes, until aromatic. Grind the toasted spices in a coffee grinder. (Powdered spices may be substituted, but don’t roast them.)

Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sauté until golden brown.

Blend the ginger and garlic with the cup of water, and add the paste to the onions. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat, until the raw flavor is gone.

Add the chopped tomatoes along with the turmeric powder and cook until the tomatoes are softened, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the curry leaves along with the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Lower the curry to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the roasted or powdered spices, and then the fish. Cook until the fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Season with salt and garnish with cilantro.

Serve with steamed basmati rice.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.