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Fish Curry with Cream and spiced with Panch Puran


India has a rather large coastline, considerably longer than ours, and the Indians love of fish is second to no one. So it is rather strange that the only fish on many an Indian Restaurant menu is either an overcooked prawn or a tandoori trout! (Okay, the owner of the former Cafe Lazeez in Dean Street, London did something phenomenal with salmon, so it is not all bad. Pity it closed). Well, let us redress that right now.

My local supermarket does some cheap fish late in the evening if you get your timing right. Last night I picked up some coley and smoked haddock for just four pounds; more than enough for four hungry people. The mix of smoked fish and unsmoked is also rather nice in curry. The core spice ingredient here will be Panch Puran, sometimes known as Indian Five Spice, but that is underselling it somewhat. The spice mix varies a little from place to place, but it normally includes fenugreek, cumin, fennel, nigella and black mustard seed…. well, you get the idea. You always use it whole and it is wonderful.


First, put the garlic, ginger, onion and coriander stalks and root in a blender and blend till it is a purée. If the onion is dry add a very little water.

Heat up a large skillet (saucepan is no good for this) and put in 3 tbs of groundnut oil. Throw in the panch puran and cook for just a minute or so till the mustard seeds start popping. Add the onion mixture and fry gently for 10 – 15 minutes at a low heat till it is all thoroughly cooked.

Meanwhile, in a dry, heavy pan, roast the coriander and cumin seed for a couple of minutes – just to toast it, don’t blacken it! Mix with the paprika, chilli powder and turmeric and grind till it is a medium coarse powder.

Add this to the onions and garlic and cook for several minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Once cooked, take the pan off the heat and let it think about life for a while. You could do this bit in advance if you wished.

Skin the fish fillets and chop into large chunks.

Warm up the spices again and add stock (chicken or veg if you don't have fish stock). Bubble away for 10 minutes until it all thickens. Make sure it doesn't dry out.

Add the cream and carry on cooking for a few minutes. Taste the sauce and make sure the spices are well and truly cooked in and you do not have a powdery taste. To be honest, if you do, it means your spices are ancient - chuck them out! Season to taste.

Add the fish gently, spreading it evenly out across the pan. Let the fish cook slowly in the sauce, turning each piece over gently – both these fishes are liable to fall apart, so be kind. The fish will cook in just a few minutes. Stir in chopped coriander leaves and leave aside for a short while just to lose a little temperature.

Serve with basmatti rice. You can also decorate with coriander leaves or very thin slices of de-seeded green chilli.

You can add coconut cream or thick coconut milk (if you make your own) instead of cream if you wish. If using tinned coconut, DO NOT SHAKE! I have no idea why they tell you to on the can. Open it and spoon out the thick coconut cream, leaving the water behind.

And that is it. How simple does it get?


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