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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 is a dish of relative popularity among Malaysians and Singaporeans and tourists there, although it is generally not categorized as cheap hawker fare. A typical fish head curry served in a clay pot costs between $10-20 and some of the best can be found in hawker centers 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. Tamarind (asam) juice is frequently added to the gravy to give it a sweet-sour taste; this variety of fish head curry normally has a thinner, orange gravy. Additionally, a certain amount of coconut milk is often used in the curry.
RECIPE 1 (Malaysian fish head curry)
- 1 kg fish head (snapper or cod), cleaned and scaled
- 4 tbsp oil
- 2 stalks lemongrass, lightly bruised
- 3-4 cups water
- 1 1/4 cup (300 ml) coconut milk
- 10 tofu puffs
- 2-3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 10 okra (or add eggplant if desired)
- Coriander leaves for garnish
- 120 gr (4 oz) shallots
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 inch galangal
- 1 inch ginger
- 2 candle nuts
- 1/2 tbsp toasted belacan
- 3 tbsp chilli paste (dried chillies that have been soaked until softened, and finely blended)
Curry powder (mixed with 4 tbsp water to form a paste):
- 2 tbsp ground coriander
- 2 tbsp chilli powder
- 1/2 tbsp ground turmeric
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp chicken/ikan bilis stock powder
- 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1-2 tbsp sugar (or to taste)Salt to taste
- Rub some salt over the fish head and set aside for 1/2 hour before rinsing it off. Ensure there is no blood left on the fish as it may cause bitterness in the curry.
- In the meantime, heat up 4 tbsp oil in a large pan/pot. Fry the blended ingredients (shallots, garlic etc) for 3-5 minutes. Then add curry powder mixture continue frying for 2 minutes until the chilli oil starts to release into the pan. Add the lemongrass.
- Add water, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1/2 hour. Then add seasoning and coconut milk. Once it starts to simmer, quickly add the tofu puffs and okra. Simmer for 5 minutes before adding tomatoes and the fish. Cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes until the fish is cooked. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 3 minutes so that the oil rises to the top. Dish out
- immediately, garnish with coriander and serve hot with steamed white rice.
RECIPE 2 (Singaporean fish head curry)
Ingredients (for 2 – 3 serves)
- 0.6 kg Fish head (snapper or cod, make sure to wash off the blood thoroughly)
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 3 tsp coriander powder
- 1 red chili
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 3 inches of fresh ginger, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 onion
- 2 inches of cinnamon stick
- 1 cup of coconut milk (preferably fresh)
- 2 tomatoes
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsps Cooking oil
- Heat a pan and add 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, ginger, garlic, cinnamon stick, and curry leaves to stir-fry and bring out the aroma of the spices.
- Pour the fried ingredients into a food processor, with a little water, to blend into a smooth paste.
- In a heated pan again, add oil, chopped onion, and sliced tomato and fry until the mix is golden brown.
- Add cumin powder, chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder to stir-fry until the aroma, and then add in the ground paste you previously prepared.
- Bring the mixture to boil, and then add in the cleaned fish head and a sprinkle of salt.
- Cook the fish head on medium heat until the flesh is cooked well.
- Add coconut milk and leave the dish to simmer for three minutes before serving.