Extra Spicy Curried Mackerel Fish

image of spicy mackerel curry

Inspired by Sri Lankan flavors and also Goan Fish curry Curried Fatty Fish

fisherman’s in western seashore, Sri Lanka

My father turned 71 years last week. I have been in touch with him every couple of days. We talk hours over skype trading stories when I was growing up. It is so hard that I have not seen him or my mother over two years. I miss seeing his face and sitting in veranda in the cool summer breeze, eating my mothers favorite pick of dishes that she cooks up specially for me. My mother is all hands in when she cooks. She is always so meticulous about getting freshest ingredients possible, oftentimes greens vegetables and herbs from her own homegrown garden and seafood from the fishmonger comes to my home every Tuesday and Thursday with his catch. That is when she makes her one of the greatest fish curry recipes, with the pick that day. Fragrance of fresh seafood simmering in a broth of Malabar tamarind, tomatoes, and blend of cayenne pepper and curry powder is always wholesome in midmorning.

My home being just half and hour from western seashore of Sri Lanka and closer to one of the biggest wet fish markets in southern Colombo getting fresh seafood was never a problem. Beauty of it is everyday catch he brings is different and my mom had a perfect recipe for each. There were many to choose from among many tuna verities including yellowfin, skipjack, bullet and merlin, mackerel, Sardines, beltfish, grouper, snapper you name it. Whatever the choice was for that day my mom was very meticulous about cleaning the fish thoroughly.

silver fish on brown chopping board
Cleaning your fish

She would remove gills and guts, trim off the fins altogether. I mean getting in and pulling every little spec of inners out, scraping the fish with back of the knife to remove the scales (if any) and rinsing thoroughly with cold water. “Never put any fins and rinse your fish well before making curry. Or your curry will be too fishy and ruined” she used to say. Next step is to cut the fish to thick pieces of steakes and soak in little water mixed with vinegar, lime juice, salt, and turmeric. This is a step I still follow today when I get fresh fatty fish that I must clean and prep myself. Half and hour in the soak and rinse really help with getting a well-rounded flavor in your curry.  Remove the steakes out and rinse thoroughly with cold water and you are ready to go.

With the fish ready to go us get to making some Sri Lankan spicy fish curry today. I am using some fresh Spanish mackerel I found in my local grocery store. I went ahead and cleaned and prepped the mackerel for my curry. It was three large fish and yielded 4 pounds of stakes once prepped. It was too much for making curry all in one go, so I decided to borrow a little trick from my mother’s book again and do a one more prep step. This way I could divide mackerel steaks into batches and freeze it to make a curry in a snap. Also, if I change your mind about making a curry again, I can always make a sandwich or cutlets once you have it prepped this way.

Pre-cooking mackerel

  • Add fish steakes in heavy bottomed pot with a lid (4 pounds of Spanish mackerel)
  • 2 tablespoons of freshly crushed black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of turmeric
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of sea salt
  • 5 or 6 cloves of Malabar tamarind.

Loosely pack a layer of steaks in the bottom of pot. Lightly sprinkle salt pepper and turmeric on top. Tuck in two pieces of Malabar Tamarind. Repeat the same process until all the steakes are packed. Sprinkle in scant half a cup of water. Cover and place on lowest heat and let the fish slow steam until just done. Do not mix or add any more water because we want fish to stay dry and firm. Remove the stakes and store in airtight container along with Malabar tamarind. It stays good up to a week in the fridge or longer in freezer.

Today I am using one third of my pre-cooked mackerel to make a nice spicy Sri Lankan fish curry.

The Spicy Curry Sauce

Prep time: One hour                                                          Cook time: 20 minutes


  • 1 can of coconut cream
  • 2 tablespoon of coconut oil
  • Half a teaspoon of mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 oz or two heaping tablespoon of turmeric lemongrass yellow curry seasoning base ( Please read how to make yellow curry seasoning base here)
  • Tablespoon of roasted Jaffna curry powder                                       
  • 2 teaspoon of Sri Lankan black curry powder
  • One red onion
  • If you like extra heat add 4 Thai hot red peppers (optional)
  • Clove or two of Malabar tamarind soaked to soften.
  • Leftover water from steaming the fish (if any, use up all that flavor)


  • Puree the onion and peppers.
  • In a heavy bottomed curry pot heat 2 tablespoon of coconut oil. When hot, add mustard seeds and let it crackle.
  • Add pureed onion and peppers cook until soft and bubbly.
  • Add everything else except mackerel and coconut milk. Keeping the heat high, toss to mix and cook for two more minutes. Add coconut milk and simmer the curry until spices are well combined and sauce is thick for about 15 minutes.
  • Add the pieces of fish and cook for another 5 minutes on low until flavors are combined. Give it a taste and adjust the salt to your taste. Since the fish is already cooked, you will only need to cook until fish is warmed through in the sauce.  

Yummy spicy fish curry is ready to serve. Serve warm over steamed basmati rice and a salad.