Surmai curry: Kingfish in spicy coconut curry

I’d been trying to clear out my fridge for the past three days with a good success rate in preparation for the Amritsar-Dharamshala trip. (Yes, I’ll be gone a week but will come back with pictures of the rich Amritsari food traditions and warming Tibetan momos.) Until the fisherwoman came by this morning. Did she really have to dangle that surmai (kingfish) at me when I had a bunch of cluster beans to finish for lunch? Turns out, she did. And you know what’s happened to the cluster beans.

I cannot resist surmai. It was one of the first kinds of fish I ate, given the fact that it has such few bones. It’s easy to cook with and holds itself well in any form of cooking. I love it the traditional coastal Maharashtrian way—marinated in salt, turmeric, ginger and garlic paste, lemon juice/tamarind pulp, coated in a mixture of rice flour and semolina, and fried to crispy perfection.

I had quite a few pieces of the fish today, so I used some for this lovely fish fry, and with the rest, I made a delectable Goan-style curry in my Kerala meen chatti. The nuttiness of the roasted coconut and the hotness of the chili and pepper were all soaked up by the humble fish; and, eating it with a simple steamed rice was just perfect.


  • 7-8 pieces of a small-sized kingfish
  • 1 cup of grated fresh coconut
  • 1 medium-sized onion, chopped
  • 3 green chilies, pricked with a fork
  • ½ inch piece ginger
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 4 dried red chilies, rehydrated in warm water
  • 1 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. ghee
  • 1 tsp. mustard oil
  • About 1 cup of water (more or less according tour preference of curry thickness)





  1. Wash the surmai pieces and rub with salt and turmeric. Leave to marinate for about 15-20 mins.
  2. In a coffee blender, place the coconut, red chilies, peppercorns, coriander seeds, ginger, and garlic, and grind to a coarse paste using the water you rehydrated the chilies in.
  3. In a clay pot or other vessel of choice, heat the ghee and mustard oil together (I know this is probably wrong, but the aroma is priceless).
  4. Add the green chilies and sauté for a minute. Tip in the onion and sauté until lightly browned.
  5. Now, add the ground masala paste and cook until glossy. Add water and the surmai pieces.
  6. Cook for about 5 minutes until the fish is tender.
  7. Serve very hot with steamed rice.

Comments (6)

  1. Aparna July 22, 2011 at 4:26 am


  2. Anjali July 22, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Doesn't that chatti consume a lot of fuel for cooking? I had tried using a terracota tava for rice bhakri but gave it up just because of that.

  3. Leena Ajgaonkar Goutam August 30, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Oh Saee – I'm drooling over the pics !
    Lovely I say !!!

    I googled for Surmai fry (just coz I was missing it badly) You dont get Surmai that easily in Los Angeles. Landed up on your page – And now missing it all the more !!! 🙁

  4. Seafood Recipes April 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Thank you providing clearly using photographs clearly explanation you providing rally it was so nice and delicious recipe.

  5. Nidh December 8, 2015 at 8:10 am

    Hey, thanks for this awesome recipe. Tried it tonight for dinner and it turned out super delicious. Thanks again.

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