Singgang Serani, which first appeared in my Singapore Recipes cookbook some years ago, is a Eurasian Fish Curry from Singapore and Malaysia. It is a fairly spicy but light fish stew, relying on only a few aromatics and spices for flavour. Interestingly, it doesn’t have the requisite garlic or ginger and instead, we use turmeric and lemongrass for the aroma and taste.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Eurasians, as the word suggests, is a mix of European and Asian. You can read more about them, as well as the other ethnic groups in Singapore and Malaysia, on my new blog:
What’s in a Name?
Singgang = a Malay word that refers to gravy type dishes native to the East Coast of Malaysia, particularly the state of Terengganu
Serani = is the Malay word for Eurasian
Singgang Serani = Eurasian Stew/Curry (in this case fish curry)
Bonus: Serai = lemongrass
It’s one of my favourite fish curries because of its lightness. It is spicy, as mentioned, and also a touch sour from the tamarind, with sharp citrusy notes from the lemongrass. It bears similarities to other fish curries up and down the Malaysian Peninsula and even Thailand and Vietnam. Singgang Serani also has a lighter-in-colour Indonesian cousin called Pindang Serani.
Some plain white rice is the best way to enjoy its simple flavours, as the white rice is perfect for absorbing all the subtle notes in this curry. And don’t forget French baguette – it goes well with all curries!
All you need alongside the rice is perhaps some stir fried vegetables like the Fried Okra with Lime and Chilli and a green salad of leaves and cucumber. My granny used to serve a green salad with almost every meal, it is perfect with rich and spicy dishes, providing the perfect foil to both.
Cooking Singgang Serani at Home
Let’s take a look at the ingredients, shall we?
Any firm, white fish will do, like cod, haddock, snapper, halibut and mahi mahi. Monkfish is also fabulous in this, if a little on the expensive side.
This is meant to be a spicy dish and we use 10 dried red chillies to that effect, in this recipe. You can always cut that right down to 2-3, if you like, and use a mild variety, like Kashmiri chillies.
Can you use fresh chillies? Sure you can. We use a lot of dried chillies in Asia, as they lend a certain amount of depth to the recipe. But fresh are perfectly acceptable.
Can you use chilli powder (cayenne powder) instead? Yes, but no more than 1 tsp, as it will change the flavour of the curry. If you are in the US, make sure that it is only chillies (chili pepper) in your powder, nothing else. You want cayenne powder.
Click here to read more. Probably the only pesky ingredient in this recipe. This smelly paste screams umami, and is an indispensable ingredient in South East Asian cooking. If you plan to do any Singaporean, Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian or Vietnamese cooking, then I suggest you source out some shrimp paste. Try Amazon, if there isn’t a store nearby.
Or, if you really can’t find or don’t want shrimp paste, just leave it out. You will still be able to enjoy an aromatic curry.
Click here to read more. I would think that this is pretty easy to come by these days. If you can’t get it, just add the juice of half a lemon to the recipe, right at the end. I wouldn’t bother using dried lemongrass shavings, they smell of dried pieces of wood! But those ready made pastes in jars and tubes? They’re ok, just be sure to get the ones, with as much lemongrass and as little other stuff as possible.
Click here to read more. A very popular souring ingredient, as well as snack in many cuisines, tamarind can easily be substituted with a tsp of lime juice or vinegar. Lemon juice, to me, doesn’t quite have the rounded flavour of these two.
I like to use a little fish sauce in this recipe for added umami. You can leave it out and just use a total of 1 tsp of salt, but still taste it and adjust at the end of cooking time.
And that’s it. Shall we get our aprons on?
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Singgang Serani, a Eurasian Fish Curry from Singapore & Malaysia
- 4 white fish fillets
- 1 medium onion
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 2 tbsp tamarind pulp
- 4 tbsp water for the tamarind
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil or any other flavourless oil
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- ½ tsp salt
- 250 ml water
- fresh coriander leaves for garnishing
Grind to a paste
- 2 medium onions
- 10 dried red chillies
- ½ tbsp belacan shrimp paste
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 stalk lemongrass sliced thinly for easier grinding
- Cut the dried red chillies into 2-3 parts and place in a bowl.
- Top with plenty of boiling water, cover and leave to soak for 10 minutes, while you get all the other ingredients ready – the onion, lemongrass and tamarind.
- Halve the onion, then slice thinly.
- Halve the lemongrass, then using the back of your knife, bruise the bottom half by pounding down hard on it. Lose the top half.
- Make a paste with the tamarind pulp and the 4 Tbsp of water. Mix well with your fingers. Strain and set aside.
- Grind all the paste ingredients in a chopper or pestle and mortar.
Let’s Cook the Curry
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat and sauté the onion and lemongrass for 1 minute, squashing down on the lemongrass to release its essential oil.
- Add the paste and fry for 2 minutes, at which time, you should be getting a wonderful aroma.
- Add the sugar, fish sauce and tamarind juice and give it a good stir.
- Add the fish and, as gently as possible, coat the fish with the paste. Really, it’s more a case of turning the fish over once or twice. Be gentle as fish does break up easily.
- Add the water and salt, bring to boil, then lower the heat right down, and simmer, uncovered until the fish is cooked through, about 7-10 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of your fish.
- At the end of cooking time, check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary.
- Garnish with the coriander leaves (cilantro) and serve immediately.
- Can be made the day before, cooled to room temperature and kept in the fridge. The next day, reheat very gently on medium, bring to simmering point, then lower heat and simmer no more than 3-4 minutes, as you don’t want the fish to over cook and turn rubbery or fall to pieces.