What’s cooking today: Tamarind seafood curry

What’s cooking today: Tamarind seafood curry
Tony Jackman’s tamarind seafood curry, served in a bowl by Mervyn Gers Ceramics. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Tamarind, the sweet-and-sour black pulp found in a ripened pod of the tree of the same name, works a bit of magic in a seafood curry.

Tamarind is one of the most beautiful words in the English language. You’re already beguiled on just hearing or saying the word. The riper the pod of the tamarind tree becomes, the more “pulpy” the mushy black stuff inside it gets. To use it, all you have to do is put it in cold water and mush it about with your hands. Its central pip is thrown away and the blackened water becomes the mysterious ingredient that turns a seafood curry into something very special.

Tamarind is one of ours, an African spice from an African tree, though it does also grow in other tropical parts of the planet such as India and Pakistan.

A seafood curry needs a firm-fleshed fish, and kingklip is ideal for it. The key to it is to cook the fish only briefly, starting with whichever seafood takes the longest to cook. So, with this recipe, the kingklip goes in first, the calamari second and the tiny shrimps only for a minute or two at the end. (If you choose prawns they will of course need a little longer, depending on their size and whether they’re still in their shells. If you add mussels, they take only a couple of minutes so they too would go in late.) But even the kingklip needs little more than five minutes to cook through in a simmering broth.

So, most of the cooking of a seafood curry has to do with the broth itself; it differs in this way from meat curries in which the mutton, for instance, needs to be in the sauce for the entire duration of the cook.

To give a seafood curry a more intense flavour of the sea, start by making a fish stock from shells, heads etc of crustacea and whatever fish offcuts you may have. Just boil those down with chopped onion, celery, leeks and carrot until you have a well-flavoured stock, strain, and add that to the curry when you put in the tamarind water and any other liquids such as a can of chopped, peeled tomatoes.

Because I wanted the kingklip to have spiciness of its own as well as soaking it up once immersed in the curry, I made a fish masala and coated the kingklip medallions in it before adding them.


500 g firm white fish such as kingklip, cob or fresh hake

800 g calamari rings

240 g shrimp (I used frozen Breco all-purpose shrimp)

4 Tbsp coconut oil

1 white onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

200 ml tamarind water (dissolve the pulp surrounding one tamarind seed in cold water, discarding the seed)

1 x 400 g can of chopped tomatoes

500 ml fish stock (see method above)

8 cardamom pods

2 green chillies, finely sliced

2 Tbsp dried curry leaves

Basmati rice, cooked with ½ tsp ground turmeric and a little salt until the rice has taken up all the cooking water 

Coriander leaves/dhania for garnish

For the fish masala:

¼ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp ground fennel

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp ground turmeric

1 scant tsp chilli powder

1 Tbsp ground coriander

1 Tbsp ground cumin


Mix the masala. Trim away the skin of the kingklip if there is any. Remove any pin bones you can feel with your fingers. Cut the kingklip into bite-size chunks. Coat the kingklip pieces in the masala. Retain the rest of the spice mix to add to the curry.

Sauté onion and garlic in coconut oil, add tomatoes, fish stock and tamarind pulp mixed with cold water. Add the remaining fish masala, cardamom pods, curry leaves and chillies.

Bring to a simmer and cook gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes for the flavours to develop and the sauce to reduce and thicken by reduction. If the sauce is not of a suitably thick consistency, reduce it for longer.

Add the chunks of kingklip and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the calamari rings and cook for 3 to 5 minutes more. Add the shrimp for 2 more minutes of cooking.

Meanwhile, make yellow basmati rice and have it ready. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. DM/TGIFood

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Champion of the Year 2021. His book, foodSTUFF, is now available in the DM Shop. Buy it here.

SUBSCRIBE: There’s much more from Tony Jackman and his food writing colleagues in his weekly TGIFood newsletter, delivered to your inbox every Saturday. Subscribe here. Also visit the TGIFood platform, a repository of all of our food writing.

Mervyn Gers Ceramics supplies dinnerware for the styling of some TGIFood shoots. For more information, click here.


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