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Curry Fish Head
Curry Fish Head pictures (1 of 4)

My two-month vacation here in Penang, Malaysia is coming to an end. Before I leave, I wanted to share a very delicious recipe with you (a specialty of my second sister who is an excellent cook )—Curry Fish Head. For sure, I am going to miss this dish when I return to the United States because some of the key ingredients such as bunga kantan is not available. Furthermore, it’s impossible to find very fresh fish head to prepare this dish…

This Curry Fish Head recipe is essentially a Nyonya ikan tumis recipe, but made with Garoupa fish head so I would call this a Nyonya Curry Fish Head as there is no curry powder and curry leaf used. Regardless, it’s a mean pot of curry and goes very well with steamed white rice, and this is just one example of the type of dishes we eat in Malaysia. Please take note that this recipe is in metric measurement for easy reference. Enjoy!


My Sister’s Famous Curry Fish Head Recipe

600g Garoupa Fish Head, chopped into pieces
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp + 1/2 cup water
3-4 tablespoons oil
2 cups water
Bunch of polyganum leaves (laksa leaves)
4-6 okras, cut into halves diagonally
Salt to taste
Sugar to taste, optional

Spice Paste:

1-2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, cut into small pieces
1 small turmeric, skin peeled, sliced into pieces
20-25g dried red chili paste
50g peeled shallots
5g belacan (shrimp paste)


Bunga Kantan (Torch Ginger Flower), sliced into small pieces
Bunch of mint leaves, optional


Prepare the spice paste by using a mortar and pestle. First, pound the lemongrass and turmeric together until they become a paste.
Deseed a big handful of dried red chilies. Soak in warm water for about 10 minutes. Pound the dried red chili into a fine paste. You will need about 20-25g depending how spicy you like. Save the unused chili paste in the refrigerator.
Pound the shallots and the shrimp paste together.
Mix the tamarind pulp and water using your fingers, extract the juice out of the tamarind pulp, discard the tamarind pulp and the seeds and save the tamarind juice.
Heat up a pot on medium heat and add the oil. Saute the turmeric and lemongrass before adding the shallots and belacan paste. Continue to stir-fry until aromatic before adding the chili paste. Stir until the oil separates from the spice paste and become red.
Add the tamarind juice into the pot, follow by the water. Bring it to boil before adding the polyganum leaves (laksa leaves) and okra. After the okra is half-cooked, add the fish head. Cover the pot and let cook for a few minutes until the fish is cooked. Add salt and sugar (if using) to taste. Garnish with the bunga kanta and mint leaves. Serve immediately.

Cook’s Notes:

Use one lemongrass if it’s a big lemongrass and two if the lemongrass is thinner.
Fish head might sound intimidating to many of you, but it’s definitely one of the best parts of a fish—it’s fleshy, tender, and absolutely delicious. Curry Fish Head is a popular dish in Malaysia and Singapore.

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