Is it going to be Keralan or Mangalorean or Goan fish? . . . Let’s find out!! Part 2 of my garam masala series.

January 18th, 2012

In my 22 years of running a restaurant in Australia, I have not seen so much anxiety and curiosity in my kitchen as I saw last Sunday, just a day before John (well, we all know who John is by now, he’s the man who puts visual life into my blogs) and I were to photograph a fish dish.

As it was fish, the focus of the debate centred around whether I was going to make a Keralan fish dish. One chef was convinced of it.

“No!” another chef immediately interjected, “he’s going to make his favourite Goan fish dish.”

“Never,” said another, taking both chefs by the shoulders and leaning against them both, “chef Joshi (that’s what they call me in my kitchen) will make a Mangalorean fish dish and he’s going to use a blue swimmer crab!!” and he winked at me knowingly and said, “isn’t that so, chef?”

Well, I like to do things my way as I’m sure my chefs know by now.

So guys, this week I am making a Hyderabadi-style machchi ka saalan,  a fish dish that uses both tamarind and tomatoes. How’s that?!

I learnt this dish from chef Chaman Lal at the Banjara hotel in Hyderabad way back in 1980, it’s such an amazing dish that uses a river or a lake fish rather than a saltwater fish.

For this recipe I am using barramundi.

Remember in Hyderabadi food turmeric is used in very small quantities , just to make a dish look bright and yes we use both tamarind and tomatoes (a blend of south and north!)

STEP 1 – Plate your seafood GARAM MASALA that we made last week and stored in our glass jar, remember?!!

Place the seafood garam masala mix, that you made last week, on a plate – there’s no need to pan fry the spices because they will be cooked with the rest of the ingredients (roasting them and adding them to the cooking process would overcook them making them go bitter) . . .  If committed, use a pestle and mortar – I prefer an electric spice grinder!

Grind the spices

Break up the chillies and place in the grinder. Do the same for the cinnamon sticks.

Add the rest of the spices. . .

Add the rest of the spice mix.

(Try and keep the grinder dry at all times!). For this recipe you will be using 2 tablespoons of the seafood garam masala (any left over should be stored in a clean, glass jar in a dry place).

grind for about 10 seconds.

the spice mix should be slightly coarser than sand . . . 

it should be like ground coffee beans!! 

STEP 2 – Prepare your garlic, ginger and chilli pastes. Don’t be put off by doing this, it doesn’t take long at all and the taste is definitely worth it!

You will need 1 tablespoon garlic paste

For the garlic paste, if you grind the cloves in oil it keeps the garlic ‘fresh’ for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

peeled garlic cloves

add the peeled garlic to the spice grinder
add the polyunsaturated vegetable oil (just enough to cover the garlic)

grind for about 20 seconds, or until a thick paste is formed

Making the ginger paste is just like making the garlic paste. (If you don’t scrape the skin off the tuber, the ginger will keep ‘fresh’ in the fridge for about 3 weeks.)

You will need 1 tablespoon ginger paste

unpeeled, washed, fresh ginger

slice the ginger into spice grinder
add polyunsaturated oil to the sliced ginger (just enough to cover it).

grind the ginger and oil, for about 20 seconds, until it forms a paste

Again, to make the green chilli paste (with the seeds retained, of course!) grind with oil and it will keep in the fridge for about 7 days.

You will need 1 tablespoon green chilli paste

fresh green chillis sliced in half

break up the chillies into 1-inch pieces and place in the spice grinder
add the polyunsaturated vegetable oil

grind for 10 seconds, or until a smooth paste is formed

If you snap-fry the kari leaves they will keep ‘fresh’ in the refrigerator for a few weeks. However, for this recipe try and use freshly fried kari leaves.

You will need 15 snap-fried kari (curry) leaves

To snap-fry:

use fresh kari leaves

add vegetable oil to a hot frying pan and heat the vegetable oil until it starts smoking
pour hot oil on kari leaves 

drain oil using sieve

final result

Now that all your pastes are ready, let’s get on with our fish dish machchi ka saalan

cooking ingredients – lay out all your ingredients to cook the fish starting in a clockwise direction from the 12 o’clock position staring with:  2 tablespoons  polyunsaturated vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, 2 cups chopped oinions, 11/2 teaspoons salt, garlic paste, ginger paste, green chilli paste, seafood garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 2 cups chopped tomatoes with the seeds and skin left on, 2 cups coconut cream, 1 teaspoon tamarind paste, snap-fried kari leaves and 1 kg barramundi

to serve: 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1/2 chopped coriander leaves

1 kg barramundi fish – 3 inch squares about 2/3 inch thick

1 kilogram barramundi chopped into 3-inch squares (about 2/3-inch thick)

onions finely chopped

2 cups finely chopped onions

tomatoes coarsely chopped

2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes with seed and skin left on
Now we’ve got our ingredients sorted, it’s time to start cooking. . .

heat two tablespoons of polyunsaturated oil into hot pan on moderate heat

Heat frying pan over moderate heat.
Add 2 tablespoons polyunsaturated vegetable oil to pan and allow to smoke.

when oil is hot, add fenugreek seeds

Add 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds and let crackle.

sizzling, some fenugreek seeds will pop (this is when the skin separates from the seeds!)

Add 2 cups chopped onions. And a hint! If you add the onions a little at a time this stops the oil cooling and the onions will cook better!

add onions a little at a time to stop oil cooling

Then add the salt. Fold the onions and cook.

add salt to onions to decrease cooking time and caramelise onions evenly

Keep cooking the onions until mildly caramelised.

onions will start to brown

Add 1 tablespoon garlic paste when the onions are mildly caramelised (light-golden).

when onion is a light-golden colour, add 1 tablespoon  garlic paste and fold

Fold in garlic paste and cook till lightly caramelised.

folding in garlic paste and cook till lightly caramelised

Add 1 tablespoon garlic paste when the onions are mildly caramelised (light-golden).

when onion is a light-golden colour, add 1 tablespoon  garlic paste and fold

Fold in garlic paste and cook till lightly caramelised.

folding in garlic paste and cook till lightly caramelised

Add 1 tablespoon ginger paste to the pan.

add ginger paste to the pan and fold 

Fold in the ginger paste and continue cooking.

folding in ginger paste

Then add 1 tablespoon green chilli paste.

add green chilli paste to the pan 

Fold in the chilli paste and cook.

fold in the chilli paste

Now add 2 tablespoons seafood garam masala and fold in with the onion mixtures and cook until fragrant.

add garam masala and fold in 

Add 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric to the pan.

add ground turmeric

Fold and cook the ground turmeric.

folding the ground turmeric 

Then add 2 cups chopped tomatoes.

adding chopped tomatoes

Fold the tomatoes and cook.

folding in the tomatoes

Continue cooking the tomatoes until they are soft.

cook until tomato skin easily separates when squeezed between your thumb and forefinger

Add 2 cups coconut cream and fold.

add coconut cream and fold

Keep folding the coconut cream, ensuring the cream does not come to the boil or else it might split.

fold in coconut cream, keep over moderate heat or else cream will separate

Add 1 teaspoon tamarind paste and fold.

adding tamarind concentrate/paste


keep folding until bubbles appear

Keep folding the tamarind paste until bubbles appear.

place fish evenly onto sauce, minimising any overlap

Add the chopped fish to the pan, ensuring no pieces overlap (so that each piece cooks evenly).

cover fish with paste using spoon

Cover each piece with the sauce.

cover pan with lid reduce heat to low

Cover frying pan with a lid and reduce heat to low.

cook with lid on for 10 minutes

Continue cooking, with lid on, for 10 minutes.

when you take off the lid, the sauce will have thickened

Remove lid and the sauce will have thickened.

adding the pan-fried kari leaves

Place the snap-fried kari (curry) leaves on top of the fish and let fish slow cook for a few minutes.

adding lemon juice

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lemon juice.


add chopped coriander and fold

Add 1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves and fold gently.

serve with steamed rice and enjoy!

Next week we will use garam masala for vegetables. Hope to see you then!!

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

Oh, it would be great if you could let us know where you are reading from.


  1. Archana Paladugu

    I made this dish today. And it came out amazing. I didnt have the exact ingredients. But used the overall technique. Used tilapia, shredded coconut blended with pine nuts for cream, added extra jalapenos to make it look like the mirchi salan i eat in Hyderabad.
    I found the final cooking the fish part tricky. I somehow got the perfectly cooked fish with well done interiors. I dont know if i can replicate it again. Is time the best factor to determine that?
    Also, could you in the future talk about what sort of fish is suitable for cooking in such sauce?

  2. Emmy Nicholas

    Hi Ajoy,
    I came across your blog when researching spice grinders. My husband is cooking a lot of curries and for his birthday I would like to give him a proper electric spice grinder. We live in Sydney and I have struggled to find a good one so far. What brand are you using? What are some of the things I should think about when choosing a good, durable spice grinder?
    Many thanks! I can’t wait to introduce my husband to your blog!

  3. Ajoy Joshi

    Hello Archana,
    Thanks for your kind words.
    Will try my best to pass on what I have picked up in the past 34 or so years.
    Kind regards

  4. Archana Paladugu

    Dear Ajoy, I cant tell you how much i appreciate you writing this blog. Please keep teaching us.
    – Thank you,

  5. Ajoy Joshi

    Hi Smita,
    Thanks for the kind words.
    Well you may certainly use any fish as long as it is not too oily. Surmai is great for this kind of cooking and will certainly taste better the next day !!
    Happy cooking!!!

  6. Smita C

    hi ajoy,
    im from india, stumbled upon your blog while researching garam masalas 🙂 i absolutely love seafood and i think this recipe is a must try! just one question- can i make this with surmai or pomfret?

  7. Semolina crusted Karwari style fish (or barramundi!) |

    […] use a fish garam masala in this recipe and to slice Spanish (red) onions properly, see […]

  8. Ajoy Joshi

    Hi Sheetal,
    Would you like to share your favourite Kadhi recipe with us??

  9. Ajoy Joshi

    Hi sheetal,
    Good to hear from you.
    I am sure you are a very good cook and don’t really need any training from any one. What matters is that the most important person in your life is happy with your cooking and that is it. Period!!
    Happy cooking and don’t stop smiling. It makes the food taste and look good!!

  10. Sheetal

    Hi, I am new in Sydney.. really wish i learn cooking from you some day when I could afford your teachings. I am a science student but i am passionate about cooking.
    My husband love my cooking and always encourage me to do something in cooking. I love the recipes you posted.. ginger chicken n Hyderabadi-style machchi ka saalan and I am very impressed by your words that Indian cooking is not just’curry in a hurry’ and ‘please the serve with a smile’. Hope I meet you soon

  11. Anonymous

    I tried this dish tonight. I must say, its mouthwateringly awesome!
    Used salmon, was buttery in texture and very tasty.
    Thank you.

  12. Ajoy Joshi

    Hi Deborah,
    thanks for your comments.
    Both John and I are very keen to bring out many more regional Indian dishes that you can try and enjoy!!
    We will also have at least 1 vegetarian dish every month and hopefully do a complete vegetarian menu in the months to come.

  13. Deborah

    Ajoy – made this last week. All I can say is OMG! I used half of the sauce with barramundi (per the recipe) and the remainder the following day with leatherjacket and prawns. Delicious. Enjoying the series – will be cooking all 6 dishes. Made the eggplant dish last night and will be making the chicken tomorrow. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  14. Ajoy Joshi

    Hi Valmai,
    Thanks for your comment. The small eggplants are very common in Thai cuisine, so you may try your local Asian grocer or alternately try it with cucumbers or even zucchini.
    Will have the aloo baingan recipe sent soon!!
    Happy cooking till then,

  15. Valmai

    I haven’t been able to source small eggplants yet- or I may have to try the cucumber idea, they are growing like crazy down here! Still hoping for the Aloo Baingan recipe 🙂

  16. Ajoy Joshi

    Hi Valmai,
    thanks for your comments regarding the fish.
    Hope you tried the eggplant dish.
    More coming this week!!
    happy cooking!!

  17. Alan

    Yes, you quickly learn not to use the “c” word whenever you are within earshot of Ajoy!

  18. Valmai Coggins

    hi Ajoy! I made this last night and it was FANTASTIC!
    very easy with your detailed instructions and the spice mix was powerful and complex – I wouldn’t describe it as delicate, my homegrown chilis pack quite a punch – and there were many layers of flavour. I’ll definitely be making it again, thanks!

  19. AvidCook

    After reading more of your blog I now know I should not have described this dishes a curry but rather as a machchi ka saalan…. My knowledge of Indian cookery is already improving thanks to your efforts!

  20. AvidCook

    This looks absolutely delicious! This seems to me to be quite a delicately flavoured fish curry and I look forward to trying this recipe. Thanks for the post.

Comments are closed.


Garam Masalas