A few days ago, we introduced you to Francis, the cook we met on our swing through Lamu on our way to Samburu, Kenya. Though we were only staying in the area for a short time, we picked up several great recipes from him. Like Swahili Fish Stew, an East African coastal staple.

There are nearly as many regional recipes for Swahili Fish Stew as there are Chili recipes here in the states. Some have a more traditional African influence, while others are more like Indian curry, and yet others have more Arabic flavors. That’s what happens when your coastal region was once one of the most trafficked trades routes in history.

Below we’ll take you on a step-by-step photo tour of how Francis makes his Fish Stew, which has a curry twist. (At the bottom of the post is the full recipe.)

Of course all fish stew should start with the freshest fish. What luck that a fisherman was enjoying his lunch directly in front of the remote huts in which we were staying.


He had two beautiful fish that he’d caught that morning. Exactly what we needed. Talk about buying local.

And in true Kenyan fashion, he also offered to share his lunch with us.



That evening, back in the communal kitchen, Francis prepared the fish.



And left the cubes to marinate in the oil and spices.


On a trip to the solar powered refrigerator, we took note of a political sticker. Everyone we met in Kenya was very proud of Barack Obama and his Kenyan ancestry, and many are hoping he’ll come visit the country while in office.


Francis chopped up hot peppers and tomatoes and pureed them with coconut milk in a blender. (In the version we made at home, we skipped the pureeing.)


Francis flash fried the fish in cooking oil. This is easier than trying to sautee the fish pieces, as they’re very delicate and flake apart easily.


The fish isn’t fried completely through, since it will need to cook a bit more in the stew. It’s set aside on paper towels while the rest of the sauce is prepared.


After removing most of the cooking oil, Francis sautés a bit of onions in the same pan.


Then he rinsed the fish marinating bowl with the tomato, pepper, coconut milk puree and poured it all into the pan with the sautéed onions. He let it simmer to reduce and added more spices to taste.


Finally he added the fish back into the simmering sauce and cooked it for just a few minutes longer before serving. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get a photo of the finished dish, but we had a great time recreating it at home.




  • 2 lbs firm white fish like tilapia, grouper, haddock, halibut or cod. Boneless and skinless filets.
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Garam Masala spice (or created your own using equal parts cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, black or white peppercorns )
  • 1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 small green chili peppers (any medium hot variety.)
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • vegetable oil for deep frying

Additional Information

  • Prep Time: 20m
  • Cook Time: 20m
  • Total Time: 1hr 25m


Roughly chop tomatoes, peppers & puree in blender with coconut milk. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together garlic, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, Garam Masala, curry powder, coriander powder and ground cumin.

Prepare fish by either deep frying or baking:

If deep frying, cut into 1.5 inch cubes. (It’s important that cubes be roughly the same size. If there are thinner, smaller scrap pieces left over after trimming, save them to cook during the last minutes of the stew in order not to overcook. Gently toss fish cubes with garlic, oil & spice mixture. Let marinate 45 minutes to one hour in refrigerator. Heat 2 inches of cooking oil in heavy, deep-sided skillet to 350F. Gently fry fish pieces in the oil for 3-4 minutes, until lightly golden brown but not cooked all the way through.  (Reserve any remaining marinating liquid & spices in bowl.) Allow fish pieces to drain on dry paper towels.

If baking, cut filets into 4-5 inch sections. Place sections into bowl with garlic, oil & spice mixture, gently toss to coat. Allow to marinate 45 minutes to one hour in refrigerator, while preheating oven to 350F.  Once marinated, transfer fish to lightly oiled baking dish. Bake in 350F oven for 15 minutes, until firm on the outside, but uncooked in the middle. (Reserve any remaining marinating liquid & spices in bowl.) Remove from oven and set aside.

In deep, heavy skillet, sautee onions  in remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat until browned.  Pour tomato/pepper/coconut milk puree into marinating bowl with leftover spices & garlic. Stir until all is well combined. Pour mixture into hot skillet with onions. Simmer until slightly reduced.  Taste for spiciness. Add more spices at this stage if desired, stirring to combine well. Add fish cubes/pieces to sauce, cover pan, and cook for additional 5 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Remove from heat immediately to prevent fish from overcooking, and serve over rice.

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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Erin Amirian Patt

SO good! Very authentic too! Love it when it’s chilly in Wisconsin!

shirley kane

I have been looking for an East African recipe that did not include frying. I tried this recipe yesterday, and it was phenomenal. I baked the fish to cut down on fat, and focused on the wonderful combination of spices, coconut milk and fish. If you are not used to such strong spices it may take awhile to get used to it but, for me, it was a sensational mix of the perfect ingredients. I believe you will fall in love with the unique combination of healthy tastes that do not depend on junk food. The artful story of the fisherman made it even better. Great job guys – thank you for sharing it.