Gulai Masin Kepala Ikan (Padang-Style Red Snapper Curry)

  • Serves

    serves 4


For this aromatic nasi padang dish, red snapper is simmered in a spicy coconut curry.


For the Paste

  • 5 small Asian shallots or 2 regular shallots, peeled
  • 6 fresh red Thai chiles, stemmed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 (2”) piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 (1”) piece fresh or frozen turmeric, peeled and thinly sliced or ½ tsp. ground turmeric
  • ¾ tsp. ground coriander
  • 4 Candlenuts or macadamia nuts

For the Curry

  • 2 whole red snapper (about 1½ lb. each), cleaned and cut crosswise 1½” thick (head and tails discarded)
  • 2 tsp. fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 3 fresh or frozen Kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 fresh red Thai chiles, stemmed and halved lengthwise
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed, crushed, and tied into knots
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1½ cups coconut milk, preferably UHT from a carton
  • 1½ tbsp. tamarind concentrate, preferably Thai Fruit brand
  • 3 tbsp. coconut cream, preferably UHT from a carton
  • 1 tbsp. grated palm sugar
  • Cooked jasmine rice, for serving


Step 1

Make the paste: Purée shallots, chiles, garlic, ginger, turmeric, coriander, candlenuts, salt, and 2 tbsp. water in a small food processor into a smooth paste; set aside.

Step 2

Rub snapper with lime juice and season with salt; let sit 10 minutes.

Step 3

Make the curry: Heat oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Add reserved paste, Kaffir lime leaves, chiles, lemongrass, and bay leaf; cook, stirring constantly, until golden and aromatic, 3–4 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and 1¼ cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add snapper and tamarind; cook until fish is done but not falling apart, 4–6 minutes. Stir in coconut cream, palm sugar, and salt. Serve with jasmine rice on the side.