Kerala is known for many things. But one thing that is not of much interest to many is the cuisine of the state. But, as the country is increasingly becoming urbanized, you can see that people are starting to give Kerala a second look.
One of the most popular street cuisine of Kerala is “kerala meen pollichathu”, or more commonly known as “kerala meen fish fry in banana leaf”. I have tried to recreate this dish few times already, but I never could get a good end result with the “old school” method, which involves deep frying the fish, and the result is “fish sticks”.
Banana leaf is one of the most common materials used for serving food in Kerala, India. It is also one of the most used flours in the country since it is cheap and easy to obtain. The leaves are first dried in the sun before being used for cooking, especially for the preparation of the favourite gravy usually called meen or poppadom. The dish is rich in iron and calcium, and protein; some people prefer it to be eaten using the banana leaf, while others prefer the use of a plate or bowl.
Meen pollichathu is a Kerala specialty that can be found in most good restaurants as well as house boats on the backwaters between Kollam and Alleppy (Alappuzha). Pollichathu means burnt/fried and meen signifies fish. The pearl spot fish (karimeen) is the most popular fish in Kerala, and it can be found in abundance in the backwaters. Instead, I used entire pomfret fish, but any hard fish would do. Fish is cooked first in Meen Pollichathu, then wrapped in banana leaf with a spicy onion masala and fried/roasted again on a tava to achieve the fried and burned banana leaf flavor. The banana leaf provides the fish a distinct flavor and makes it more appealing and mouthwatering. Meen pollichathu is one of my favorite fish meals, and it’s a great way to wow your guests and family on special occasions.
Time to prepare: 15 minutes
Time to cook: 40 minutes
- 200 gms pomfret fish or 1 tiny entire fish
- The fish will be fried in oil.
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/8 teaspoon or a pinch of turmeric powder
- 3 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger and garlic paste
- 1 tsp oil
To make the onion masala
- 3 tbsp. oil
- 3/4 cup onion or shallots (sambar onion)
- 12 curry leaves (or a few)
- 1 tsp ginger and garlic paste or minced ginger (optional)
- 1 green chilli, chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- a pinch of turmeric powder
- 1 tblsp. tomato (chopped) (100 gms)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pepper powder
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- a pinch of salt (to taste)
- 2 tbsp coriander leaves (chopped)
Remove the shallots and tomatoes from the pan and set them aside.
The following four steps may be used to prepare this recipe:
- Fish marinating and frying
- The onion masala is being prepared.
- Using banana leaves to wrap the fish
Fish marinating and frying
- In a dish, combine all of the masala (ingredients), including the oil. To create a paste, combine a few drops of water with lemon juice and apply to the fish. Marinate for 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator.
- Refrigerate the marinated fish for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
- 3 tbsp oil, 3 tbsp oil, 3 tbsp oil, 3 tbsp oil, 3 tbsp oil, 3 When the pan is heated, add the marinated fish and cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until blackened.
- Allow to cool before transferring the fried fish to a dish. Don’t worry about whether or not the fish is done; it will be cooked again. As a result, don’t overcook the fish.
The onion masala is being prepared.
- Pour oil into a vessel or kadai. Add the onion and curry leaves after it has warmed up. Cook until it becomes a light brown color and becomes translucent and soft.
- Stir in the ginger and garlic paste (or minced ginger) for a few seconds.
- On a low heat, rapidly mix in all the dry powders except the pepper powder (so that spices are not burnt). For a few seconds, stir everything together.
- 1/3 cup water and chopped tomatoes Mix thoroughly.
- Cook, covered, over a medium heat until the water is absorbed and the onion masala begins to separate from the oil. To keep the masala from sticking to the bottom of the pan, stir it periodically.
- Add the pepper powder, salt, coriander leaves, and lemon juice towards the end. Cook for approximately 2 minutes before turning off the stove. The onion masala should be thick, not curry-like. Allow time for cooling.
Using banana leaves to wrap the fish
- Take a banana leaf and wilt it over a low flame by passing it over a gas fire from one end to the other. This makes the banana leaf more flexible while folding and less likely to rip. You can watch the color shift as soon as you light the banana leaf on fire.
- It may be cleaned with a wet towel or by running it under cold water. Remove any extra water using a towel and pat dry. Alternatively, before putting the banana leaf over the fire, wash it and pat it dry.
- Place the banana leaf on a plate and cover it with a layer of sautéed onion masala. On top, place the fried fish. Spread a second coating of onion masala (all of the leftover masala) equally over the fish.
- Wrap the banana leaf in a parcel-like fashion and secure it with a thread. To keep the banana leaf from opening, use tooth picks as indicated in the image. This is done to infuse the fish with the onion masala’s flavors and vice versa.
- For each side, add approximately 1 tsp oil to a pan or tava. Place the fish in the heated pan and cook for 5 minutes on each side. On a medium heat, it will take about 10 minutes to cook both sides.
- When the banana leaf is cooked, it becomes brown and gives the fish a wonderful burned flavor, which is what pollichathu implies.
- When the banana leaf is peeled, you’ll see that all of the masala has adhered to the fish, giving it a burned banana flavor.
- It’s important for the masala to be thick and not runny. It will be simple to apply on the fish, wrap, and maintain everything within the wrap.
- Although aluminum foil may be substituted for banana leaf, the flavor and taste that the banana leaf provides will be lost.
- When cooking the onion masala, keep stirring. Cooking on a high heat will cause it to burn.
- Individual fillets may be placed within the banana packages for convenient serving when friends and family are around.
Kerala is a land of spice and coconut. From here, the Gulf of Kallankooram, and the Arabian Sea, one can reach the south of India, the west of Asia and even the east coast of Africa. Traveling to Kerala, you will be amazed by the beauty of the people and their way of life.. Read more about ammachiyude adukkala karimeen pollichathu and let us know what you think.