One of the most sought after curry in both Malaysian and Singapore is the fish head curry. Commonly found at many Indian eateries like "mamak", fish head curry is ordered as an additional dish to go with steamed white rice. Just like some dishes found in Malaysia and Singapore, this recipe has been adapted to the taste of the locals ever since it was introduced by the Indian migrants when they moved to the region. Thus, it is no surprise that fish head curry is not known in India.
It may be disturbing to know but the meat located at the jaws of red sea bream, below the gills and the back of the neck is sweet and delicate. It is where the layers of fine meat structure absorb the flavours of the curry or sauce that it is cooked in, hence making fish head much sought after when cooking curry. Therefore, it is no surprise that some* would only devour the fish head even though the whole fish is served in dishes like Cantonese steamed fish.
Due to its popularity, there is now a variety of fish head curries depending on the ethnic flavour profiles such as Nyonya fish head curry or Thai fish head curry. Although there is a great variety, the Indian fish head curry still remains my favourite. It is also known as the healthier version as it does not uses any coconut milk but yet is able to deliver the thick and luscious curry flavours. There are a few tips to making the perfect fish head curry and I have you covered.
Fresh fish curry powder mix is a must. The quality and composition of the curry powder will affect the taste. Look out for Malaysian or Singaporean made fish curry powder mixture. If you are located in any of these countries, fresh curry powder mixture can be bought at the wet market.
As mentioned, red sea bream is typically used in fish head curry. Other white fleshed fishes such as sea bass, gilt-head bream or talapia are also suitable for making this flavourful curry. In most western countries, fish heads are not readily available. It is not a problem to cook using a whole fish (cut into three parts). If there is still reluctance to cook the fish head, use fillets or cutlets as a replacement. The key importance is to use fresh fish and do not over cook it to prevent the flesh from becoming tough.)
Fish head curry must be thick in consistency. There is no two ways about it. There are two main steps which needs to be followed in order to obtain it. The first is to use rice. Having rice as an ingredient in curry may seemed unusual but the starch from the rice acts as a thickening agent. Secondly, the curry needs to be simmered until it reaches the desired thickness. Vegetables such as okras and aubergines are perfect for curries as they readily soak up the gravy.
These are the three main tips to guide you to whip up the perfect fish head curry similar to that found in most Indian eateries. It is simpler to prepare compared to other curries. This dish goes perfectly well with white rice and side dishes of banana leaf rice.
Fish Head Curry is also known as: Kari Kepala Ikan
Add 1.5 teaspoons of tamarind paste into a bowl filled with 100ml water. Mix well. Pour the tamarind solution onto the fish and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Blend garlic, shallot, ginger and dried chilies (soaked and deseeded). Set aside. Add water to curry powder and make into a paste.
In an empty wok heated at medium heat, toast rice until browned. Pound or blend toasted rice until fine. Set aside
Heat 4 tablespoons of oil at medium heat. Sauté onions until fragrant before adding curry leaves. Add mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Continue sautéing until mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the blended ingredients and curry powder paste. When oil begins to separate from the ingredients, add pounded toasted rice and water to the wok. Increase heat to the maximum.
Once curry boils vigorously, add fish, aubergines, ladies' fingers and tomatoes. Reduce heat to the minimum and let it simmer until fish is cooked. It should take about 8 to 10 minutes if fish is around 1 kg. Remove fish from curry once it is cooked. Leave aside. Add the rest of the tamarind paste, salt and sugar. Continue simmering for the next 40 minutes or until curry thickens.
Add fish head and the rest of the meat into curry. Increase the heat to allow it to boil. Once it boils, switch off the stove. Serve fish head curry with steamed white rice.