Sri Lankan Tomato Fish Curry

Layers of multi-dimensional flavor from the Far East.

Taste the bounty of tomato season in this satisfyingly hearty Sri Lankan Tomato Fish Curry. Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients in this recipe! If you are looking to up your cooking game, starting with whole spices is such a tiny but powerful step to take. They have a shelf-life much longer than ground spices, and open up “a whole new world of cooking that I previously didn’t dare to try,” says Saveur Award-winning blogger Jenny Huang, who provided this recipe, along with food styling and photography. Jenny has learned that once you have a properly stocked spice cabinet, it should take you an hour or less to put this curry on the dinner table!

  1. Step 1: In a mixing bowl, gently mixes the fish with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon turmeric. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
    Step 2: Using a mortar and pestle or the back of a heavy pan, grind 1 teaspoon mustard seed, 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, and 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorn. Combine half a tomato, 1 red onion, the ginger, 2 cloves of garlic, the chilies, the ground spices, and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor, and grind to a thick paste. Set aside.
    Step 3: Temper the spices: Add a thin layer of oil to a wok or dutch oven, heat the pan over high heat until hot. Turn the heat down to medium, add the rest of the whole mustard seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorn, green cardamom, and cinnamon. Cook the spices until they are super fragrant and have turned darker. The mustard seeds and cumin will start to pop in the oil. Allow them to pop a bit, be very careful the spices do not burn.
    Step 4: Once the spices are done the tempering, add the onions, the rest of the diced garlic, and the turmeric. Bring the heat back up to medium-high. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the onions and garlic have softened and colored.
    Step 5: Pour the paste that was made earlier into the pan and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Add the sliced tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of water and the curry leaves, bring up to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook the tomatoes down for another 10-15 minutes.
    Step 6: Add coconut milk.  Gently slide the fish, skin-side up into the pan. With both hands, pick up the pan, using a gentle swirling motion to mix the contents around. Rather than using a spatula, this technique keeps the delicate fish from breaking. Bring back up to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook just until the fish is opaque. Finally, mix in the tamarind and turn off the heat.
    Step 7: Serve immediately with rice.


  • 120-24 oz fillet of barramundi fish, cut into large 1 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 3large tomatoes, sliced
  • 2medium red onions, sliced
  • 1-inch nub ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 4cloves garlic, peeled and diced
  • 5green bird’s eye chilies
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4green cardamoms, lightly crushed to open the pods
  • 1cinnamon stick snapped into pieces
  • 15-20fresh curry leaves
  • 1 cup of coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon pure tamarind pulp
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