Fish Masala

Rate this recipe

Preparation info

  • Serves


    • Difficulty


Appears in

The Settler's Cookbook

By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Published 2009

  • About

You can buy frozen tilapia in Indian grocery stores, but they are skinless fillets which cook too fast and break up, unless you can get hold of the fatter variety. Back in Mwanza they used to cook the whole fish taken fresh from the lake. Good substitutes are cod, halibut or coley steaks, or any whole fish which has firm flesh.


  • Whole fish weighing 4 lb or 4 lb of fish steaks
  • 2 lb medium-sized potatoes
  • ½ cup oil

Masala Paste

  • ¾ cup tomato purée
  • ¾ tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 3 tsp crushed mixture of ginger and garlic
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • Juice of a big lime



  • If using a whole fish, get it scaled, then make three to four slashes on either side. You can take the head off, but I don’t. My ex-mother-in-law liked no other part of a fish better, and in her memory I always keep the heads on.
  • With fish steaks, wash and then sprinkle them with a little salt. Leave for an hour.
  • I usually use 4 lb of fish for six people. Other ingredients are for this quantity. For less or more, you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
  • Mix together the ingredients for the paste.
  • Peel, halve and parboil potatoes for six minutes.
  • Cover fish with some masala and in a separate bowl mix a little masala into the potatoes. Leave for a couple of hours. Hang on to any leftover masala.
  • Pour half the oil in a wok and, when hot (not sizzling), lay the potatoes down, cover and cook for fifteen minutes, stirring from time to time.
  • Remove potatoes and spread in a pretty ovenproof dish.
  • Add rest of the oil (except for 2 tbsp) to the wok and carefully place the fish in. Cover and cook. Turn over after five minutes and cook for a further five. Lift the fish and lay it over the potatoes.
  • Heat the remaining oil in the wok and cook the leftover masala on high heat, stirring so it thickens and browns but doesn’t burn.
  • Scrape this over fish and potatoes.
  • Let it rest.
  • Just before serving, zap the top under a hot grill if you wish (not really essential).
  • You can garnish this with thin slices of ripe lime.