Fish Head Curry

This Singaporean fish head curry epitomes the Little Red Dot perfectly: it’s a unique blend of cuisines and flavours. This dish in particular merges South Indian curry aspects with the Chinese favoured dish of steamed fish head. It’s layered and lush and is surprisingly straightforward to make. Feel free to use fish meat instead if the head freaks you out – it will still be delicious, just not quite as spot-on as the real deal.

1 hour (including soaking time)
40 minutes

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

2 tsp fenugreek seeds

1/4 cup Malaysian curry powder

2 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed, bruised and tied in a knot

large handful curry leaves

2 tbsp shaved palm sugar*

1 tsp salt, or to taste

2 tbsp tamarind concentrate

1 small eggplant, trimmed and cut into chunkgs

1.2kg (2 lb 10 oz)—1.5kg (3 lb 5 oz) fish head from snapper, red emperor or other firm, white fish

10 okra, halved lengthways

3 roma tomatoes, quartered

½ cup coconut milk

steamed rice or roti, to serve


Spice paste

20 medium dried chillies

150g (5 oz) shallots, coarsely chopped

8 cloves of garlic, peeled

2cm (just under 1”) piece of ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped

generous pinch of salt

1 tsp ground turmeric

  • Step 1

    For the spice paste, place the dried chillies in a small bowl, then pour over enough boiling water to cover well. Stand for 30 minutes, or until softened. Drain well, using your hands to squeeze out excess water. Reserve the chilli soaking liquid. Using scissors, chop the chillies into chunks and add to the bowl of a food processor, followed by the shallots, garlic, ginger and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of the chilli-soaking liquid, then process until a coarse paste forms (use extra liquid to help your blender along if you need to). Spoon out into a small bowl, then add turmeric and mix well to combine. Set aside.

  • Step 2

    Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mustard and fenugreek seeds and cook for 1–2 minutes or until the mustard seeds start to pop.

  • Step 3

    Add the chilli paste and cook, stirring, for 6–7 minutes or until the oil has separated out; the mixture should look a bit curdled and there will be traces of oil on the base of the pan. Add the curry powder, curry leaves and lemongrass, then stir for 1–2 minutes or until fragrant.

  • Step 4

    Next, in goes 2½ cups water, followed by the palm sugar, salt and tamarind. Stir to combine, then bring to a simmer. , then add the eggplant and fish head . Bring back to the simmer then cover the pan and cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, or until the eggplant is tender.

  • Step 5

    Add the okra and tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the fish head is cooked through. Stir in the coconut milk and heat until the curry gravy just starts to simmer, then serve with steamed rice or roti.

  • Notes

    – It’s worth finding good-quality Malaysian palm sugar (gula melaka) for this recipe as it has a rich, deep flavour that is unmistakable.

Where is fish head curry from?

Fish head curry is believed to have originated in India, a restaurant owner wanted to create something that his Chinese customers would enjoy so he combined the traditional Chinese dish of fish heads, with an Indian curry.

However, this version is from Singapore, combining South Indian cuisine with Chinese cuisine perfectly.

What do you eat with fish head curry?

This Singaporean fish head curry is traditionally served with steamed rice or roti, something that can soak up all the layers of deliciousness that comes with this real deal fish head curry.

How long does it take to cook fish head?

It will take around 40 minutes to cook this Singaporean dish from start to finish, with the fish head taking around 30 minutes to cook simmering at a medium-high heat.

Hey Foodie. So glad you're here. Let's hav some fun making delicious food. Hey Foodie. So glad you're here. Let's hav some fun making delicious food.

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