Sweetened with many shallots, the tangy tamarind-based sauce is a perfect match for thick cutlets of oily fish such as mackerel. The fish is dusted in turmeric-laced flour then fried and added to the sauce. A wonderful Singaporean recipe that is perfect as a main dish or shared as part of a banquet.






Skill level

Average: 3.8 (57 votes)


  • tbsp tamarind pulp 
  • 500 ml water 
  • 400–500 g thick Spanish mackerel cutlets (or other strong-flavoured oily fish) 
  • plain flour, to dust
  • ground turmeric, to season
  • oil, to fry
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, bruised 
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and quartered 
  • 2 long red chillies, halved lengthwise, seeded 
  • 2 long green chillies, halved lengthwise, seeded 
  • sugar, to taste
  • salt, to taste

Rempah (spice paste)

  • 10 shallots 
  • 2 long red chillies 
  • ½ head garlic, peeled 
  • 1.5 cm piece of young ginger 
  • ½ tsp shrimp paste, roasted

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.


Pound the rempah ingredients to a fine paste in a mortar, or blend in a food processor.

Combine the tamarind pulp and water and leave to soften, then strain.

Coat the fish pieces in flour mixed with a little turmeric. Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the fish pieces until lightly coloured. Set aside.

Heat a little more oil in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the rempah paste over high heat until fragrant. Add the lemongrass, tomato, chillies and tamarind water and bring to the boil. Season to taste with sugar and salt – the flavour should be a mix of hot, sweet, sour and salty. Add the fried fish and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.