Burmese Fish and Tomato Curry
Burmese fish curry: fragrant, healthy, easy and delicious! Tomatoes are cooked down into a luscious sauce with herbs like lemongrass, turmeric and ginger, and then fish is gently simmered in this flavourful liquid. It’s an easy and delicious way to start venturing into Burmese cuisine! Serve with some hot jasmine rice and you’re golden. It’s also gluten free and dairy free!
This Burmese fish curry recipe is inspired by a cookbook from a famous restaurant in the Bay Area called Burma Superstar (see link below). I always wanted to go there when I lived in San Francisco, but I never got a chance to because there was always a long lineup, so I was excited to try out their recipes when I saw the book released!
(If possible, plan a little bit ahead so you finish the curry at least half an hour before serving. That extra time that the fish can sit in the curry sauce will allow flavours to further develop.)
- 500g white fish fillet, cut into big 1.5-2 inch chunks (see note)
- ¾ tsp + ⅛ tsp salt
- 1 tsp turmeric powder, divided
- ¾ cup shallots, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2-inch piece ginger, chopped
- 1 stalk lemongrass, bottom half only, thinly sliced
- Thai chilies, to taste
- 1 tsp fermented shrimp paste or gapi (if you like strong shrimp paste flavour you can add more, if you don’t have it, just add more fish sauce)
- 1 ½ tsp paprika
- 4 cups diced roma tomatoes (about 8 tomatoes)
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce (adjust this amount depending on how much shrimp paste you add)
- 2 Tbsp tamarind juice What is tamarind?
- 1 tsp of sugar, or as needed
- Chopped cilantro for garnish
Notes: You can use any mild flavoured white fish you prefer as long as the fillets are not too delicate or it would fall apart in the curry. I used cod for this recipe and it worked out really well.
Toss fish with ½ tsp turmeric and 3/4 tsp salt. Let it sit while you prepare the rest of the curry.
Make the herb paste: If using a food processor, blend lemongrass, garlic, ginger and chilies until it resembles a rough paste. Add the shallots and process briefly just to break down the shallots, and you should end up with a rough herb mix. If using a mortar and pestle, first pound the lemongrass and chilies until the lemongrass is broken apart into small pieces (it’s important that you slice the lemongrass thinly first or you’ll have a hard time breaking it down in the mortar). Add garlic and ginger, and pound into a rough paste. Add shallots and just crush them to break apart all the layers and bruise them.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, add enough oil to cover the bottom and add the herb mix. Add 1/8 tsp salt and saute for a few minutes until the shallots are soft and translucent.
Add shrimp paste and mush it to mix well with the herbs and let it fry in the oil for a minute.
Add paprika and the other ½ tsp turmeric and saute for 15 seconds.
Add the tomatoes, fish sauce, tamarind, and stir to mix with the herbs. Cover and let it simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes or until the tomatoes break down into a soupy curry sauce.
Taste the sauce for balance of flavours, and if you feel it needs a little sweetness to balance, adding the sugar. (I find you usually need the sugar for most standard grocery store tomatoes, but if you have really ripe, sweet, in-season tomatoes, you may not need the sugar.)
Bring the sauce to a full boil if it isn’t already, then add the fish and stir the pieces in so that the fish is completely submerged. Cover and let the fish simmer on medium-low heat for 3 mins, then turn off the heat and let it sit in the residual heat for another 7 minutes or until the fish is done.
After 7 minutes, check to make sure the fish is cooked. Then taste and adjust seasoning one last time. Garnish with lots of chopped cilantro. Serve with rice. Enjoy!