Friday, August 30, 2013

Malaysian Fish Head Curry

This is a Malaysian-Chinese style fish head curry, as opposed to the Indian-style which uses fish curry powder, curry leaves, fenugreek and mustard seeds. I think most commercial fish curry powders are meant for Indian style curries, and so I made my own from scratch using ground coriander, chilli and turmeric. After three attempts, I was happy with how this final one turned out. Cod fish head was fantastic, although snapper head works perfectly well too. Some of you may cringe at the thought of having a fish head served at the dining table. If that's the case, you can always substitute with fish tail or fish cutlets. I love having lots of okra, eggplant and tofu puffs in my curry, making it pretty much a one pot wonder. Find the recipe after the jump.

Some handy tips before you start cooking this.

1. Ask your fishmonger to scale your fish head properly. Trust me, it's not pleasant having fish scales in the curry while you're eating.
2. Don't overcook the okra. 10-15 minutes is fine.
3. Don't let the coconut boil in the curry for too long, otherwise it will start to split.
4. Don't overcook the fish either.
5. Cook plenty of white rice as you will need it.
6. And finally, the fish cheek is the best part, so get to it first before anyone else does, but politely offer it to others before you land it on your plate.

Fish Head Curry Recipe


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 (300ml) coconut milk (I used Kara canned coconut milk)
10 tofu puffs (Soya King brand)
2-3 tomatoes, quartered
10 okra (or add eggplant if desired)
Coriander leaves for garnish

Blend finely:
120g (4oz) shallots
4 cloves garlic
1 inch galangal
1 inch ginger
2 candlenuts
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


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. immediately, garnish with coriander and serve hot with steamed white rice.