Kerala Meen Pollichathu (fried fish in banana leaf)

Meen pollichathu is a Kerala delicacy found in most of the fine restaurants and also in the house boats that you will find in the backwaters between Kollam and Alleppy (Alappuzha). Meen means fish and pollichathu means burnt/fried. The fish most commonly used in Kerala is the pearl spot fish (karimeen), which is abundantly available in the backwaters. I have instead used whole pomfret fish - you can use any firm fish. Traditionally in Meen Pollichathu, fish is first fried, then wrapped in banana leaf with a spicy onion masala and is fried / roasted again on a tava to get the fried and burnt flavour of banana leaf. Banana leaf gives a unique flavour to the fish and makes it more appetizing and mouth-watering. Meen pollichathu is one of my favourite fish dishes and is a good one to impress your friends or relatives on special occasions.

Preparation time: 15 mins

Cooking time: 40 mins

Cuisine: Kerala

Spiciness: Spicy

Serves: 1-2

Ingredients

  • Pomfret fish -200 gms or 1 small whole fish
  • Oil for frying the fish
  • Marinade

  • Chilli powder- 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder - 1/8 tsp or a pinch
  • Lemon juice- 3 tsp
  • Ginger and garlic paste- 1/2 tsp
  • Oil- 1 tsp
  • For onion masala

  • Oil – 3 tbsp
  • Onion or shallots (sambar onion) – 3/4 cup
  • Curry leaves - 12 (or a few)
  • Ginger and garlic paste or Ginger chopped (optional) - 1 tsp
  • Green chilli (chopped) - 1
  • Chilli powder – 1 1/2 tsp
  • Coriander powder – 2 tsp
  • Turmeric powder – a pinch
  • Tomato (chopped) – 1 (100 gms)
  • Water – 1/2 cup
  • Pepper powder – 1/4 to 1/2 tsp
  • Lemon juice – 1 tbsp
  • Salt - as per taste
  • Coriander leaves (chopped) – 2 tbsp

Method

    Chop the shallots and tomatoes; keep them aside.

    Cooking this recipe can be done in the following four stages:

    • Marinating the fish and frying
    • Cooking the onion masala
    • Wrapping the fish in banana leaf
    • Frying

    Marinating the fish and frying

    • Mix all the masala (ingredients) including oil in a plate. Add a few drops of water along with lemon juice to make a paste and apply on the fish. Marinate for about 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
    • Remove the marinated fish from the fridge atleast 30 mins before cooking.
    • Preheat a pan or tava, add 3 tbsp oil. When hot, place the marinated fish and cook 2 mins on each side until you get a charred colour.
    • Transfer the fried fish onto a plate and allow to cool. Do not worry whether the fish is cooked or not as it will be cooked again. So, do not overcook the fish.

    Cooking the onion masala

    • Take a vessel or kadai and add oil. When it gets warm, add onion and curry leaves. Cook until it is light brown, transparent and soft.
    • Add ginger and garlic paste or chopped ginger and stir for a couple of seconds.
    • Add all the dry powders except pepper powder and stir quickly on a low flame (so that spices are not burnt). Stir for a few seconds.
    • Add chopped tomatoes and 1/3 cup water. Mix well.
    • Cook on a medium flame with the lid closed, until all the water is absorbed and the onion masala starts to leave oil. Stir occasionally to avoid the masala from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
    • In the end, add pepper powder, salt, coriander leaves and lemon juice. Cook for about 2 mins and switch off. The onion masala should be thick and not like a curry. Allow to cool.

    Wrapping the fish in banana leaf

    • Take a banana leaf and wilt it on a low flame by slowly passing the leaf on fire from one end to the other on gas fire. This will make the banana leaf more flexible in folding and will not tear much. As soon as you pass the banana leaf on fire, you can see the colour change.
    • Clean it with a damp cloth or run under cold tap water. Remove the excess water and pat dry. Alternatively, wash it and pat dry before you put the banana leaf over fire.
    • Place the banana leaf and put a layer of cooked onion masala on banana leaf. Place the fried fish on top. Put a second layer of onion masala (all the remaining masala) on top of the fish and spread evenly.
    • Wrap the banana leaf like a parcel and tie with a string. You can use tooth picks as shown in picture to prevent the banana leaf from opening. This is done to infuse the fish with all the flavours from the onion masala and vice versa.

    Frying

    • Take a pan or tava and add about 1 tsp oil for each side. When hot, place the fish and cook for 5 mins on each side. Total time of approximately 10 mins is required for both sides on a medium flame.
    • When cooked, the banana leaf changes colour to brown and it gives a nice burnt flavour to the fish, which is what pollichathu means.
    • When the banana leaf is unwrapped, you will see that all the masala is well attached to the fish with the burnt banana flavour and taste.

Notes

  • The masala has to be thick and not watery. It will be easy to apply on fish, wrap and more important to keep everything inside the wrap.
  • Aluminium foil can be used instead of banana leaf, but the flavour and taste that the banana leaf will add will be missing.
  • Keep stirring the onion masala when cooking. Don’t burn it by cooking on a very high flame.
  • Individual fillets inside the banana parcels can be made for easy serving when friends and relatives are around.

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