Spicy Masala Fish



The inspiration for this recipe comes from a packet of masala mix I bought from a little stall on one of Zanzibar's spice plantations. Each of the neatly-wrapped spice packages on offer came accompanied by a small slip of paper indicating the recommended uses of the contained spice, and, often more interestingly, the uses not recommended. My favourite advice accompanied a packet of red chilli seeds. 'Zanzibar chilly [sic] is strong,' it warned, 'neither play with, nor put in your sense.' You can not argue with that for good advice. The fish masala packet simply read, 'used in frying for best flavour and better taste,' but this somewhat tautological formulation must have done its job and worked doubly on me, subliminally even perhaps, as masala was one dish I was particularly keen to try back at home.

A really fresh, meaty white fish fillet is best for this recipe, as the clean flavour of the fish should contrast against the rich and earthy spices.  I used grouper because it is plentiful here in the Gulf, sold under the local name hammour. Local alternatives where you are might be monk fish, hake, cod, or snapper.



(Serves 4 as a starter)

  • 400g white fish fillets – large fillets are best
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
  • Handful of mint leaves
  • 3 tablespoons natural yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons oil for cooking – i.e. sunflower or similar
  • Lime wedges to serve


Check the fish filets for bones, removing any that you might find with a pair of tweezers. Cut into large chunks, and then place back in the fridge momentarily while you prepare the masala marinade.

Split open the cardamom pods at their base, and scrape out the seeds into a mortar and pestle. Grind these together with the coriander and cumin seeds until you have a fine powder. Lightly toast, along with the garam masala powder, in a dry pan over medium heat until the spices become fragrant.

Next, place the mint leaves and the yogurt in a food processor and blend until combined. Add the spices to the processor, and blitz again briefly until everything is blended.

Rub the masala marinade over the fish, and then return this to the fridge, either in a cling film covered bowl, or airtight container, to marinate for at least 2 hours.

When you are ready to cook, heat the oil in a large casserole, or frying pan, and fry the fish pieces until golden, and cooked through.

Serve with some wedges of freshly cut lime.