Masala fish is literally a throw-together recipe that anyone can do on a weeknight, with very little effort. Here’s how!
A Masala Fish dish that (is):
- Easy to prepare
- Packed with flavour
- Made with store-cupboard ingredients
- Great with bread, rice and even in a sandwich
- Can be stored for up to 3 days (perfect for meal prep!)
Masala fish is a versatile Indian dish, simply because it can be prepared and consumed in so many different ways. In some parts of India, particularly Northern regions, this can come with a slightly wet gravy, perfect for rotis and naans. In the Southern parts of India, this dish is more dry, with the fish a little crispy and charred from the flame. Of course, this depends on the type of fish you’re using, and the region of the country you’re borrowing the recipe from.
I made this from my own kitchen, and I cannot honestly say that it’s from either north or south. What I do know is that it’s packed with flavour and curry-powder goodness, is extremely easy to make (especially if you take my shortcuts into account) and perfect for weeknight dinners.
There is still a lively debate that pits fresh, market-bought fish against frozen fish. I generally stay away from food debates, and this one is no different. However, I will say that I have had both bad and good experiences with frozen fish. The worst being fish that’s floury and stinky, and the best being these Nile Pre-Cuts that I stock up in my freezer regularly. You see these pre-cuts need not be cut, you just have to defrost them then put them into your curry, sambal or whatever it is that you’re making. Easy, right?
Here are a list of recipes I have prepared with this fish:
Essentially, these precuts are made from the nile perch fish. They are native to Africa, and export of this fish forms a very essential part of the desert’s economy. Typically, the nile perch can grow up to 2m in length, and is similar to cod or halibut in texture. Nile perch is not too strong in taste; which is great for curries and other dishes that bring lots of flavour in themselves. The Nile fish is available in a few ways, although all frozen. I usually buy only the pre-cuts, which you will see here, or the fillets. This makes things easy for me when I cook; these fish fillets and chunks can be battered, fried, baked, boiled or steamed with little to no trouble, have no bones whatsoever and are really worth the price we pay.
If you can’t get Nile perch pre-cuts or are a fresh fish purist, I can recommend using any firm white fish to get the job done. Halibut and cod are very good substitutes because they are easy to use, boneless white fish. If you are buying fish whole, I would recommend cutting it into chunks before putting them in here.
If you prefer, you can use tilapia or sole fillets for this, too. Just be sure to cut them into bite sized pieces.
I have used my very own homemade masala in this recipe. A masala is essentially a spice blend that makes for a great addition to dishes like these. However, making masala at home can be an arduous task; you’ve got to hunt down the whole spices, toast them, and powder them. To circumvent this, I recommend getting store-bought spice powders.
Because this is a fish recipe, the go-to spice mix here would be Baba’s Fish Curry Powder. I know it says fish curry, which is not what we are making. But the spices used in this blend are meant to compliment seafood dishes, making it perfect to be used here.
If you’re not into using a one-spice-fits-all solution, try combining your own to get a unique flavour. You can bring together a variety of different flavours together easily by combining various spice powders, such as cumin, coriander, chilli and turmeric. Other spices to explore would be mace, garam masala, maybe a little cinnamon powder and if you want to have a punchy taste, garlic or ginger powders. You can even try adding Cajun Spice blend or Cayenne pepper to this.
I recognise and appreciate my vegan and vegetarian followers, thank you for all the support and for always asking me how you can adapt my recipes to suit your dietary needs. Here are some ways you can change up this recipe for vegan and vegetarian diets. Essentially, this would involve replacing the fish with any or a combination of the following ingredients:
- Chickpeas (soaked and boiled, the canned ones will just become mush)
- Tofu (fried or baked beforehand to toughen its exterior)
- Tempeh + Tofu (similar to sambal goreng)
- Vegan meat substitutes (I recommend Quorn)
Making this dish does not require a lot of work if you’re using shortcuts, such as the frozen fish idea from above. However, you’ll have to get a fair bit of chopping out of the way before you start. I use a chopper to get this done, so that I can save time. You don’t have to chop onions the way I have, you can have them as thick, fat slices if you prefer. Personally, this works for me and helps to form the ‘masala’ part of this dish which is characterised by a lovely, flavourful rempah.
Chop the onions together with the garlic and ginger, and set this aside. If you’re adding vegetables to this, such as potatoes or carrots, I would suggest chopping them into quite small pieces so that they cook fast. The fish literally takes no time at all to cook, so the vegetables need to keep up.
Add the onions, ginger and garlic to hot oil. Here, you can choose to add chopped chilli padi, as much as you prefer. I didn’t as I was catering for palates that can’t handle too much spice, but feel free to add as many chillies as you like. Don’t come after me if you can’t eat the final dish, though.
The chopped tomatoes here are added to help the curry form, though you can get away with using store-bought chopped tomatoes. If you’re doing that, one can is best here.
How dry, or wet, you’d like this dish is entirely up to you. I’ve made it just dry enough for it to be a side at the dinner table. If you like a more watery masala, you can add some tamarind water, yoghurt or coconut milk to thicken and form the gravy. Such gravies will be great with naans or prata.
Masala Fish RecipeCourse: Main, SidesCuisine: IndianDifficulty: Easy
450g Nile Perch (pre-cuts)
2 + 1 Tsp Turmeric Powder
3 Tsp Chilli Powder
1 + 1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp Ginger Garlic Paste (see notes)
5 Tbsp Oil
1 Large Onion, peeled and chopped
3 Cloves Garlic, peeled and chopped
1 1-inch Ginger knob, peeled and chopped
3 Medium Tomatoes, chopped (see notes)
3 Tbsp Fish Masala
You’ll need to;
- In a large bowl, combine fish fillets, 2 teaspoons turmeric, chilli, 1 teaspoon of salt and the ginger garlic paste. Mix well with your hands, ensure all fish fillets are well coated with the spice blend. Set aside.
- In a large skillet, add the oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, gently drop in the marinated fish slices. Cook each side of the fish for about 3 to 4 mins. Then, remove the fish from the pan and set aside.
- In the same pan and with the remaining oil, add the chopped onions, ginger and garlic over medium heat. Saute this until the mixture is soft and translucent, then add the tomatoes. To this, add the fish curry powder (masala), 1 teaspoon turmeric and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to cook and let the ingredients blend well by covering the pan and cooking for 3 minutes.
- Uncover pan, and drop in (gently again) the fried fish chunks. Over low heat, stir the fish very gently to mix it with the thick spice paste you’ve created. Serve warm.
- Ginger Garlic Paste: You can use ½ tsp each of ginger and garlic powder if you don’t have this at the ready. You can also grate in one clove of ginger and a small piece of garlic.
- Tomatoes: Feel free to use the canned variety if you don’t want to be chopping tomatoes.