This rich and creamy Keralan Fish Stew is a South Indian favourite for good reason! Pieces of turmeric-marinated white fish are cooked in a luscious coconut milk broth, packed full of aromatic vegetables, a few whole spices and brightened up with a burst of citrus. Simply put: This dish is as mouth watering as it is satisfying! | Gluten Free + Paleo + Whole30
Don’t be intimidated by the somewhat lengthy ingredient list found in this Keralan Fish Stew!
This bright and creamy fish molee is much easier to prepare than you might expect. Everything can be cooked in one large pot and is beautifully seasoned to create a stew that’s rich in spice. It’s no wonder that this South Indian curry has become such an international favourite.
How to Make this Keralan Fish Stew
The one main drawback you might find in making this dish is that the recipe does call for a few whole spices that you may not find already stocked in your own kitchen: curry leaves, cardamom pods, mustard seeds and maybe even cinnamon sticks. That being said, you won’t be disappointed if you add these ingredients to your shopping list for the next time you swing by the store. Most major grocery stores carry these items in either the spice or exotic food section. If you’re unable to find everything in store you can always look to Amazon to find what you need!
Putting it All Together
Once you have everything you need to make this Keralan Fish Stew, the process is simple.
Start out by preparing the fish. Chop up your fish into large chunks and mix together in a bowl with some ground turmeric, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Once the fish is fully coated in golden spice, set aside and let it marinate for at least 20 minutes.
While the fish is marinating, this would be a good time to prep your veggies. Chop up a couple of onions, some garlic, ginger, tomatoes and slice up your chilies. This part isn’t hard but can take a little time – especially if you’re anything like me and tear up if you so much as stand next to an unpeeled onion.
When you’re ready to begin, melt up some coconut oil in a large pan. When the oil is hot, add your fish pieces and quickly fry each side of the fish over a medium heat. The idea is to sear the outsides and not the inside as the fish will finish cooking in the stew later. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan as you cook the fish – cook it in batches if needed. Once cooked, set the fish aside on plate.
In the same pan, add a little more oil if needed and add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilies. Cook for about 5 minutes to soften the onion. Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and mustard seeds and cook another couple of minutes.
Next, add the coconut milk, stock or water, lemon juice, turmeric, and curry leaves. Stir, mixing it all together and then carefully add the tomatoes. Let the mixture simmer about 10-15 minutes. The stew will reduce down slightly in this time.
Finally, add the fish to the pot and let cook another 10 minutes or so. Taste and season adding more salt or lemon juice if needed. Do your best to fish out the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick before serving. Finish off with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro for serving and enjoy! You can enjoy this dish as is, or serve it over rice (just keep in mind that rice is not paleo/whole30 compliant.)
A Note on Curry Leaves
Dried Curry Leaves Vs Fresh Curry Leaves
The difference between dried and fresh curry leaves is similar to the difference between other types of herbs. There’s a certain, fresh/punchy quality that can’t really be matched but dried herbs will do the job. You just need more of it.
Don’t sweat it if you can’t find fresh curry leaves. They’re not as likely to be found in major supermarkets stores, though it might be worth having a look if you find yourself in a specialty grocery stores. I used dried curry leaves in my stew and the end result is still delicious!
If You Can’t Find Curry Leaves
While I usually don’t have too much trouble finding specialty ingredients for Indian/Asian dishes in the UK I know something can be tough to in America. If you are unable to find curry leaves, fresh or dry, there are a couple of things to you try instead so that you don’t have to miss out on making this dish:
- Use lime zest & basil. Lime zest provides a similar, citrusy aroma that you’d get from using curry leaves. Basil offers up a similar, herby flavour. Combining the two is the best way to replicate curry leaves when you have to make do without. To substitute in this recipe: add the zest of one whole lime and about 8 large basil leaves chopped up (the same amount you’d need if you were using curry leaves).
- Use bay leaves. You won’t get the same citrusy sensation, but bay leaves are also a good option to impart a similar sweet/savoury flavour found in curry leaves. If using bay leaves, you’ll only need two.
This dish is lovely served over a bed of rice and alongside a piece of naan/flatbread. If you need to keep this dish low carb or paleo friendly, skip the white rice and opt for a cauliflower rice like this cilantro lime recipe.
However you serve it – I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 lb boneless, skinless white fish, cut into cubes
- Coconut oil
- 2 medium white onion, diced
- 5 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- 4-6 green chilies (Anaheim chilies), sliced lengthwise in long slivers (deseeding is optional)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 cardamom pods
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 14oz can full fat coconut milk
- 1 cup | 240 ml chicken stock or water
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 20 dried curry leaves or 8-10 fresh curry leaves* see notes
- 2 large tomatoes, quartered
- Salt to taste
- Fresh cilantro for serving
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Add the turmeric, salt, pepper and lemon juice to a large bowl and mix together to form a watery paste. Add the chopped fish to the bowl and gently mix to coat fully in spice. Set aside to marinate for 20 minutes.
- While the fish is marinating, prep the vegetables. Dice the onion, finely chop the garlic, slice the chilies and quarter the tomatoes.
- After the fish has marinated, add 1-2 tablespoons coconut oil to a very large pan or pot over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the fish to pan and fry 1-2 minutes on each side, searing the outside of the fish. Remove the fish from the pan and side aside on a plate.
- In the same pan, add a little more coconut oil if needed. Once melted, add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli to the pan. Sauté about 5 minutes to soften the onion.
- Add the mustard seeds, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick to the pan. Cook another 2 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk, stock or water, lemon juice, turmeric and curry leaves to the pan. Mix well then add the tomatoes. Let the mixture gently simmer, uncovered for 10-15 minutes.
- Add the fish to the stew and continue to simmer another 10 minutes, cooking the fish fully now.
- Taste and season with salt as needed. Add more lemon juice for added brightness.
- Serve with additional lemon wedges and fresh cilantro on top and enjoy.
What kind of fish should I use?
- I recommend a boneless, skinless white fish that will easily take on flavour: cod, haddock, sole and hake will all work well. Whatever you can find available to you will do. That being said, you could also use or add shrimp/prawns to this curry. Some fish molees are even made with salmon.
Curry Leaves Substitutes:
- Use lime zest & basil. Lime zest provides a similar, citrusy aroma that you'd get from using curry leaves. Basil offers up a similar, herby flavour. Combining the two is the best way to replicate curry leaves when you have to make do without. To substitute in this recipe: add the zest of one whole lime and about 8 large basil leaves chopped up (the same amount you'd need if you were using curry leaves).
- Use bay leaves. You won't get the same citrusy sensation, but bay leaves are also a good option to impart a similar sweet/savoury flavour found in curry leaves. If using bay leaves, you'll only need two.
Similar Recipes You Might Enjoy
If you enjoy this keralan fish stew, here are a few more seafood and fish recipes you may want to also check out!