Kare Ikan (Fish Curry with Potatoes)

  • Serves

    serves 4

This dish is one example of the cuisine of the Banda—hot, sweet, spicy and sour. Red snapper filets may be substituted for the mackerel in this dish.


  • 5 red thai chiles
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2" pieces fresh turmeric, peeled and coarsely chopped, or 1 tsp. dried ground
  • 3 tbsp. peanut oil
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 sticks cassia
  • 2 fresh or frozen whole daun pandan (pandanus or screw pine leaves), tied into knots
  • 1 whole nutmeg, cracked open with a nutcracker
  • 2" pieces fresh galangal, peeled and bruised with a heavy, blunt object
  • 3 small yukon gold potatoes (about 1 lb.), peeled and cut into sixths
  • 1 34 unsweetened coconut milk
  • Salt
  • 2 cleaned whole mackerel (about 1½ lbs.), heads and tails removed and reserved, bodies cut crosswise into 2"–3" pieces
  • 1 tbsp. cumin seeds, toasted and finely ground in a spice grinder
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. Fried Shallots


Step 1

Put chiles, shallots, garlic, turmeric, and 1 tbsp. water into a food processor and purée, scraping down sides of bowl often, to form a fairly smooth paste, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl.

Step 2

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add paste and cook until oil begins to separate and paste no longer smells raw, 5–6 minutes. Add cloves, cassia, daun pandan, nutmeg, and galangal and cook until aromatic, 1–2 minutes.

Step 3

Add potatoes and cook, stirring often, until well coated, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the coconut milk, 1¾ cups water, and salt to taste; stir well to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue simmering until potatoes are just fork tender, about 30 minutes.

Step 4

Add mackerel (with heads and tails) and remaining coconut milk; stir to combine. Simmer gently until mackerel is just cooked through, 5–7 minutes. Stir in cumin, sugar, and salt to taste. Transfer fish and liquid to a wide serving bowl. Let rest for 20–30 minutes before serving to allow flavors to intensify. Remove whole spices and daun pandan, garnish with fried shallots, and serve with Festive Yellow Rice, if you like.

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