"The spice mix on this fish has been used for centuries in Sri Lanka and it is earthy and spicy. Known in Sri Lanka as Ambul Thial, I now serve it in my restaurants as a modern Sri Lankan dish but I couldn’t resist the challenge to introduce some wonderful Indigenous Australian flavours into this dish. The result was two ancient cultures blending harmoniously through food." Peter Kuruvita, Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen






Skill level

Average: 2.2 (50 votes)


  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 6 Spanish mackerel steaks, about 180 g each, skin off 
  • large sprig of lemon myrtle, leaves picked


Spice paste

  • 2 tbsp cracked pepper
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 5 tsp goraka paste (see Note)
  • 10 cm piece ginger, sliced
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp roasted curry powder (see Note)
  • 6 curry leaves
  • 2 green chillies
  • 3 whole cardamom pods, seeded
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken



  • 50 ml coconut oil
  • ½ Spanish onion, sliced
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 cm piece of ginger, sliced
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 3 cm piece pandanus leaf
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp fenugreek, roasted                                                       
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp roasted curry power
  • 2 litres fish stock
  • large sprig of lemon myrtle
  • large pinch of salt



  • large sprig of lemon myrtle, leaves picked
  • 2 finger limes, pearls squeezed out (see Note)
  • 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • small handful native edible flowers
  • small handful coriander leaves

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Place the whole sweet potato in a saucepan of lightly salted water, bring to the boil, then simmer until tender but not falling apart. Set aside.

Meanwhile, to make the spice paste, place all paste ingredients in a food processor and blend until a smooth paste forms.

To make the sauce, place coconut oil, onion, curry leaves, garlic, ginger and black pepper in a large saucepan and stir over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes or until aromatic. Add the pandanus leaf and all the spices and stir to combine well. Add the stock, lemon myrtle and salt. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes and remove from the heat. Strain through a fine sieve and keep warm.

Heat the heat coconut oil in a large non-stick frying over medium- high heat. Cook the fish, until golden on one side, then turn.  A good way to judge if the fish is ready to turn is by the white lines appearing about a quarter of the way through the flesh.  Spread the paste over the top of the fish pieces and just before the fish is cooked through, add the lemon myrtle leaves to the pan to crisp.  Remove the leaves and set aside for the salad.  Using a ladle, add enough sauce to cover the fish and bring to a simmer. It will be ready almost immediately.  

To serve, slice the warm sweet potato, then place on a platter with the fish and sauce on top. Toss all the salad ingredients together and serve on the side.  



• Also known as Kokam, goraka is a souring and thickening agent made from the dried fruit of the same name. You can buy goraka paste at an Asian supermarket specialising in Sri Lankan or South Indian products. Alternatively, to make your own, soak 2 pieces dried goraka in 50 ml warm water for 15 minutes or until softened, then drain and pound the goraka into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Keep the soaking water for thinning out the sauce if necessary. If you can’t find goraka, use tamarind instead.

• Sri Lankan roasted curry powder is worth searching out but if not use some Sri Lankan raw curry powder and gently roast it till it gets dark.

• To help loosen the finger lime ‘pearls’, gently roll the limes on a board, then cut the ends off and squeeze out the pearls. 



Photography by Dan Freene. Food preparation by Peter Kuruvita/ Cody Fahey.


Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen airs Thursdays at 8.30pm on SBS. Visit the program page for more details, recipes and guides.