Meen Pollichathu with kokum

Meen pollichattu is an authentic Kerala dish. Meen means fish and pollichathu means burnt/fried. Meen Pollichathu is prepared by frying the fish, then wrapping in banana leaf with a spicy onion masala and fried/roasted again with banana leaf on a pan/tava to get that fried and burnt flavour of banana leaf. The fish usually used in Kerala is the pearl spot fish (karimeen), but I have used whole pomfret fish instead. You can use any firm fish.

Meen pollichathu is cooked in many ways with different spices in each home and in restaurants. This is one of my favourite fish dish and is a good one to impress your friends and/or relatives on special occasions. In this recipe, I wanted a different taste - spicy, juicy and sour. So I have added kokum, also called as fish tamarind (meen puli). If kokum is not available, you can use tamarind paste instead, but kokum gives you the different taste. Sometimes, I don’t fry the fish, but instead directly wrap the marinated fish in banana leaf and bake, which I have shown in the pictures towards the end. This meen pollichathu with kokum is sure to impress fish lovers!

Preparation time: 15 mins

Cooking time: 45 mins

Cuisine: Kerala

Spiciness: Spicy and sour

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
  • Black pepper powder (freshly ground) - 1/4 tsp
  • Oil- 1 tsp
  • For onion and kokum 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 – 2 tsp
  • Coriander powder – 2 tsp
  • Turmeric powder – a pinch
  • Water – 1/2 cup
  • Thick coconut milk – 1/2 cup
  • Pepper powder – 1/4 to 1/2 tsp
  • Kokum – 1 (or 1/2 tsp tamarind paste)
  • Salt - as per taste
  • Coriander leaves (chopped) – 2 tbsp

Method

    I have used coconut milk powder to make thick coconut milk. Mix 2 tbsp of coconut milk powder to 1/2 cup or 150 ml of warm water or as per the instructions.

    Wash and soak kokum in warm water for about 10 mins to soften it. You can then use the water for cooking instead of using plain water. Chop roughly.

    • Marinating the fish and frying
    • Cooking the onion and kokum masala
    • Wrapping the fish in banana leaf
    • Frying (or alternatively baking)

    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 and kokum 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 3 to 4 seconds.
    • Add all the dry powders except pepper powder and stir quickly on a low flame (so that spices are not burnt).
    • Add chopped kokum and stir for about a min.
    • Add water (used to soak kokum) immediately, so that spices don't get burnt.
    • 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.
    • Add coconut milk and stir.
    • Cook on a medium flame with the lid closed for about 10 to 12 mins or until all the liquid is absorbed and oil separates. In the end, add pepper powder and cook for about 2 mins. Switch off. 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 and kokum 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.
    • Sprinkle few coriander leaves and 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 and kokum 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.
    • Serve as a starter or with plain rice for main course.

    Baking

    • Sometimes, I bake the fish in the oven by wrapping it again in aluminium foil, mainly to avoid any leakage. This is done by directly wrapping marinated raw fish with onion and kokum mixture in banana leaf and baking in oven.
    • Place in a preheated oven at 220 degrees celsius for about 12 to 15 mins or until the fish is cooked. The onion and kokum mixture is well attached to the fish and is juicy and well cooked.

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.
  • Cooking times depend on the size and thickness of the fish being used.

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