Puspa and Magan’s sauteed masala herrings

Al Brown

One of my all time favourite pastimes and fishing experiences is to go herring fishing with Sunjay, his father, Magan, uncles Lucky and Wal, and more often than not, a handful of their extended family or members of the Indian fraternity. We line up, backs to the wind, vying for the best position as we spread out along the Worser Bay wharf in Wellington.  Hand lines, light rods with tiny hooks and sinkers, are the tackle of choice, with a concoction of boiled potatoes and a soggy bread mix for burly. It’s a time of chatter, laughter and banter as young and old compete to catch these delicious eating fish. The herrings (or more correctly yellow-eyed mullet) come and go off the bite and, if we are fortunate, at certain times of the year the garfish turn up, too, which is an added bonus. Within a couple of hours it’s possible to catch two or three dozen ‘fish for tea’! We iki them all immediately and place them in a slurry of ice before divvying them up as we all disperse and wander off. An open invitation is always extended to follow the herrings back to Magan and Puspa Dayals , where both Mum and Dad cook and clamber over each other in the small domestic kitchen, giving each other tips and advice on such things as the strength of the chilli, the amount of spice, or the heat of the pan. These two have cooked thousands of herrings this way over the years, and the results are inevitable …always wickedly delicious.     

Masala Herrings

Serves 6


  • 1 dozen herrings, scaled, headless and gutted
  •  1 ½ T fresh chilli, finely diced
  •  ¾ T finger, grated fine
  •  ½ T  farlic, grated fine
  •  1 ½ t salt
  •  1 ½ t cumin
  •  1 ½ t  coriander
  •  ½ t  turmeric
  •  1 ½ t  garam masala
  • A  pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 T  cooking oil
  • 1/3 C fresh coriander, rough chopped fine
  • cooking oil
  • lemon or lime halves


Take the 12 herrings and with a sharp knife make a couple of scores on both sides of each herring. Place the herrings in a large mixing bowl.

Now add the all of the other ingredients.

Take your clean hands and massage all of the ingredients over and into the cavities of all the herrings. Let them sit for 10 minutes.

Take a skillet or sauté pan and place on medium-low heat. Once hot add a little oil followed by half of the masala herrings. Cook on each side for 3 minutes or so. Remove when cooked and keep warm while you finish cooking the remaining herrings.

To serve, place two herrings on each plate with a half of a lemon or lime. Serve while hot.

Its best to eat these delicious fish with just your fingers, slow and deliberate, discarding the bones as you go. The flesh will be moist and sweet. Plenty of handy paper towels and a couple of finger bowls will aid the feast.

Visit www.albrown.co.nz  for more on the nationally-acclaimed chef, fisherman, food writer and TV presenter.