Culinary Arts

An Introduction to South Indian Cuisine and Easy Fish Curry Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Feb 26, 2019 • 3 min read

The cuisine of the Indian subcontinent is best understood through its regional states, due to its massive size and surrounding influences. For South Indian cuisine, that means the region states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana.

Southern Indian cuisine is the blueprint for Thai, Indonesian, and Malaysian flavors, with coconut, tamarind, lemongrass, and bright chilis in the starring roles. It’s tropical and overall lighter than North Indian cuisine. Instead of naan, you’ll find dosa (a lentil and rice flour crepe) and idli (a steamed rice cake); the Northern preference for fenugreek is swapped for the Southern addition of dried curry leaves. In Southern India, yogurt-based raita might be prepared with grated radish, coconut, and black mustard seeds, instead of the traditional Northern version of cucumber and cumin. (Try your hand at either version with our homemade raita recipe.

There’s one dish that’s not generally found in the North though: fish curry.

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What Is Indian Fish Curry?

Fish curry is an Indian dish featuring white fish cooked in a spiced broth or sauce, typically served with basmati rice, idli, or dosa. Seafood is incredibly popular in the Southern coastal regions (home to 223 endemic fish species) and eaten almost every day.

Common Fish Curry Ingredients

Common fish curry ingredients include:

  • Tamarind
  • Green and red chilies
  • Coconut milk
  • Curry leaves
  • Tomato
  • Fish. Any type of fish will do, but ones with firm white flesh, like halibut or tilapia, work best.

How to Make Indian Fish Curry in a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot

To make fish curry in an Instant Pot, preheat to sauté, and add 2 tbsp of coconut oil. Add 8-10 curry leaves, and allow to simmer for 30 seconds until aromatic. Add 1 cup finely chopped onion, 1 tbsp minced garlic cloves, 1 tbsp minced ginger, and ½-1 whole sliced green chili, depending on heat preference. Cook until onions are translucent.

Add 1 cup chopped tomato, stirring until liquid is released and they’ve begun to break down. Add 1 tsp ground coriander, ¼ tsp ground cumin, ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp salt; stir well to combine and saute 30 seconds. Add 1-2 tbsp water to deglaze, then stir in 1 cup coconut milk (about half a standard 14 oz can). Place 1 ½ lbs fish fillets, cut into medium-sized pieces, into the curry, turning once or twice to coat. Close the lid; cook for 2 minutes. Quick release and open lid. Add 1 tsp lime juice, and season to taste.

Easy Fish Curry Recipe

Ingredient Checklist

Total Time 3 hr | Cook Time 30 min | Prep Time 2 hr 30 min

Coconuts are Kerala's main export, which means you can always expect some form of them to appear in popular Southern recipes, either in the form of shavings, milk, or oil.

  • 12 (1-inch thick) pieces of fish (any fish with firm white flesh)
  • 7 to 8 dry red chilies
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 2 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 cup grated unsweetened coconut
  • 2 cups coconut milk (1 14 oz. can)
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 8 to 10 curry leaves
  • 2 green chilies
  • 2 medium-sized onions (ground to a paste or finely diced)
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Place the dry red chilies in a mortar and pestle with 1 tsp water. Pound into a paste.
  2. Soak the tamarind paste in 2 cups hot water; strain, pressing firmly to extract all juice.
  3. Combine red chili paste, tamarind, coriander, turmeric, and 1 tsp salt in a large bowl. Add the grated coconut and 1 cup coconut milk; mix.
  4. In a shallow dish, pour chili-tamarind mixture over fish to marinate. Let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  5. Heat cooking oil in a large frying pan over medium-heat. Add fenugreek, curry leaves, green chilies, and half the onion. Fry for a few minutes, until onion begins to brown.
  6. Add tomatoes, and cook until the juices have combined.
  7. Remove fish fillets from the marinade and set aside. Add the marinade to the spiced tomatoes, and bring to a boil.
  8. Add the garlic paste, cumin, remaining onion, and remaining coconut milk. Season with salt and pepper, and stir well. Lower heat and simmer until thickened.
  9. Add the fish, and cook, stirring gently occasionally, until fish is cooked through.

Serve with plain cooked basmati rice, or dosa! (Learn how to make the perfect basmati rice here.)