Kerala Fish Fry: South Indian Spiced Pan-Fried Fish

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.

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.

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.


Kerala Fish Fry: South Indian Spiced Pan-Fried Fish

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Servings 4


  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • ½ lime juiced, plus lime wedges for serving
  • 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp cayenne
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 1 lb fish fillets or steaks I typically use tilipia or cod, but really, most any fish would work
  • ¼ cup coconut or vegetable oil


  • 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.

Last Updated on January 16, 2016 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD

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Shane Antony
Shane Antony
2 years ago

4 stars
Looks good. My only comment is that we traditionally cook this with fish with its skin on. Butter fish is one of the recommended fishes. Enjoy!

Jacquie Donovan
Jacquie Donovan
4 years ago

5 stars
Thank you for a great recipe. I was wondering what to do with fish, bored with my usual and googled fish, turmeric and up popped your recipe which led me to cook Madhur Jaffrey’s spiced potatoes and cabbage with peas to go with it. Great meal, Indian fish and chips.! I am not going back to mash and peas with plain fried fish.

4 years ago

4 stars
This was tasty! I realize it’s not a new post, but I just found it today when I was in the mood for crispy, spicy fish in a hurry. Cooking instructions were spot-on and the flavors were delicious–though I cut the salt and would cut even further next time. I served it on top of fresh baby spinach .- the heat & residual oil from the fish wilted the greens just the right amount– with steamed yams on the side. Thanks for a delicious recipe!

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