Aceh-style Fish Curry

Aceh-Style Fish Curry
Aceh-Style Fish Curry

The cuisine of Aceh is influenced by Arab and Indian spices that were introduced by foreign traders, and these, when combined with local produce and especially seafood, created a fascinating fusion of flavours.

Aceh’s cuisine offers two different varieties of curry; one is thick and dry like a paste, while the other – known as gulai – is a rich, coconut-based dish traditionally made with beef, goat, poultry, or, as in this recipe, fish. It has a creamy texture, and is notable for its yellow and orange colours.

Aceh-Style Fish Curry
Aceh-Style Fish Curry

We made this dish at home and it was an instant hit. The combination of kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, the mellow sweetness of palm sugar, the sour flavour of tamarind and the smooth delicate taste of the coconut milk is a marriage made in heaven.

The alluring, elegant flavours are a perfect match to sweet, tender fish, such as snapper, with tangy lime juice making a great finishing touch.

I recommend using ‘wet tamarind,’ which is the dark brown flesh of ripe sour tamarind removed from the pods along with the fibrous strings and seeds before being compressed into compact blocks. In Indonesia, it can be found in the local markets.



1 small or medium-sized whole fish, gutted (e.g. trout, snapper, sea bass, sea perch, sea bream, or other white fish)

1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice

½ teaspoon sea salt

one cup of vegetable oil


Spice paste:

8 red shallots

5 garlic cloves

6 large, mild red chilli

4cm. turmeric, grill under a flame for two minutes

3 candlenut, dry roasted


4 kaffirlime leaves

2 lemongrass stalks, bruised and tied in loose knots

1 tablespoon wet tamarind pulp

800ml. coconut milk

1 ½ teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons palm sugar, grated

¼ teaspoon cumin (optional)

1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice

fried shallots


Soak the fish in water to cover with the one teaspoon of lime juice and salt.

Set aside for 15 minutes.

Remove the fish, drain and pat dry.

Heat the oil in a wok large enough to hold the fish. Deep-fry the whole fish for two minutes on each side. Strain the fish and set aside.

You can also barbeque or grill the fish.

Grind or blitz the spice paste ingredients until a smooth paste adding a splash of water to get the mixture moving if necessary.

Remove the oil from the wok, leaving 2 tablespoons to fry the spices (or use fresh oil if you prefer).

Heat the remaining oil over medium heat and fry the spices with the lime leaves, lemongrass and cumin for two minutes until fragrant and glossy.

Stir in the coconut milk, sea salt, tamarind and palm sugar and simmer for two minutes.

Add the whole fish.

Continue to simmer for three minutes or until the fish is warmed through.

Stir in the lime juice.

Garnish with fried shallots.




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