Kerala Fish Fry: South Indian Spiced Pan-Fried Fish

Flaky fish with ginger, garlic and spices, pan-fried to golden perfection.  It's a super flavourful, versatile recipe that works with most varieties of fish.
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When most people think of indian food, their minds jump to rich curries brimming with warm spices.  But there's another, lighter side to Indian food in the coastal south, where fresh ingredients predominate and spicy fish, sautéed veggies, and light lentil curries are on constant meal rotation.

My mother-in-law made this for us on her recent visit.  Her version is extra spicy, mine is tempered down a bit (but if you like to breathe smoke, feel free to use more cayenne!).  

This marinade is packed with flavour - ginger, garlic, and lime juice, plus turmeric and fiery cayenne. 

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If you are intimidated by cooking fish, this is a great place to start. It's a super flavourful, versatile recipe.

Many people get swallowed up by all the varieties offered at the market, and don't know what to buy or where to start.  The thing is, it's pretty easy to swap one fish for another, so just buy a pound of whatever fillets are the freshest and grab your skillet. 

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My favourite thing about fish is that it cooks so quickly - like, 5 minutes in the pan and dinner is on the table. Excellent for busy weeknights, but tasty enough to star at a dinner party. 

I serve mine with raw onion, cilantro, limes and rice, with a Kerala-style sauteed vegetable on the side - I follow this recipe for poriyal using cabbage or carrots or whatever is in my crisper drawer, really. 

  • Duration
  • Cook Time
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  • 4Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1/2 lime, juiced, plus lime wedges for serving
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 lb fish fillets or steaks (I typically use tilipia or cod, but really, most any fish would work)
  • 1/4 cup coconut or vegetable oil

Preparation

Combine garlic, ginger, lime juice, salt and spices in a small bowl.  Pat fish dry then rub spice paste all over it.  Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature (or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator).  

Preheat a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over high heat.  Add oil to hot pan. When oil is shimmering hot, carefully slide in half of the fish. Let cook undisturbed until fish lifts easily and top of the fish is turning opaque at the edges, 2-3 minutes. Carefully flip and finish cooking on the other side until fish is just opaque at the centre and flakes easily with a fork, 1-2 minutes more.  

Serve with lime wedges.