Meen Kulambu: South Indian Fish Curry

South Indian fish curry
The Spruce
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Marinate: 3 hrs
Total: 3 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
434 Calories
32g Fat
18g Carbs
22g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 434
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 32g 41%
Saturated Fat 19g 97%
Cholesterol 58mg 19%
Sodium 290mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 18g 7%
Dietary Fiber 4g 13%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 22g
Vitamin C 26mg 129%
Calcium 79mg 6%
Iron 4mg 24%
Potassium 745mg 16%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

South Indian cuisine is as vast as the geographical areas it includes. The five southern states of India that comprise the southern region are Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. Varied and influenced by different cultures, from British to Portuguese, southern Indian cuisine is so diverse that what a fish curry looks like in one state is very different from what it can be somewhere else not too many miles apart. Our take on a fish curry coming from this part of the world incorporates the key ingredients, steps, and flavors to bring to your table a delicious and rich curry that can easily be made outside of India.

Each family has a secret mix of spices that they use in curries, and although the ingredients are different in their amounts, they all have common elements. What makes them special for a household is the addition of an extra touch of one spice, or taking one out altogether. Our recipe aims at bringing the best and most truthful flavor of what a fish curry in Southern India can be, but we know that this dish can take on so many forms that it'd be impossible to summarize it in just one recipe.

Also called meen kulambu, this fish curry is a delicately flavored dish infused with tangy tamarind that can be served with idlis, dosas, flatbread, or plain steamed basmati rice to soak up all the flavorful sauce. Use any white firm fish of your liking, like cod or halibut, although tilapia, snapper, cod, mahi-mahi, or mackerel are also great choices.


Click Play to See This South Indian Fish Curry Recipe Come Together


For the Marinade:

  • 2 dried red chile peppers, plus 1 teaspoon of water

  • 1 golf-ball sized tamarind pulp

  • 2 cups hot water

  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • Salt, to taste

  • 1 small coconut, flesh grated

  • 2 cups coconut milk, divided

For the Fish:

  • 16 ounces firm white fish, cut into 2-inch pieces

For the Curry:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 8 curry leaves

  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

  • 1 green chili pepper

  • 2 medium onions, ground into a paste, divided

  • 1 large tomato, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon garlic paste

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Steps to Make It

Make the Marinade

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    ingredients for south indian fish curry
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  2. Use a mortar and pestle to pound the dry red chilies into a coarse paste using a teaspoon of water.

    Grinding chilis with mortar and pestle.
     The Spruce
  3. Add the tamarind to the hot water and, with your hands, squeeze the fruit well to release all the pulp from it. Strain the thick tamarind juice and discard the pith and seeds.

    Tamarind juice.
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  4. Mix the red chili paste and tamarind juice with the ground coriander and turmeric. Add salt to taste. Add the grated coconut and 1 cup of coconut milk. Mix well.

    Mixed seasonings for fish curry.
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Marinate the Fish

  1. Place the pieces of fish in a large, flat dish and pour the marinade mixture over. Make sure all the pieces are coated and marinate for 3 hours.

    Marinating fish for fish curry.
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Make the Curry

  1. Heat the cooking oil in a deep pan over medium heat until hot. Add the curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, and green chili. Sauté for roughly 2 minutes, or until the oil stops splattering.

    Frying curry leaves.
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  2. Add half of the onion paste and sauté until the onion begins to slightly brown.

    Brown the onion paste in oil.
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  3. Add the chopped tomato.

    Adding tomato to a curry base.
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  4. Sauté till the spices start to release their oil and tomato turns darker. Stir frequently.

    Cooking tomatoes and onions down for curry.
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  5. Remove the fish from the marinade and set aside. Add marinade liquid into the pan and stir.

    Fish marinade added to curry vegetables.
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  6. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the garlic paste, cumin, pepper, and the remaining onion paste. Stir and add the remaining cup of coconut milk.

    Bring fish curry to a boil.
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  7. Lower to a simmer and cook until the oil begins to appear on top of the gravy.

    Simmering fish curry.
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  8. Add the pieces of fish and simmer until it's cooked through. If stirring, do so very gently to avoid breaking fish pieces. Turn off the heat.

    Fish added to the curry.
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  9. Serve curry with the side dishes of your choice and enjoy!

    South Indian fish curry.
     The Spruce