In the previous article “Kerala Seafood Culture “, we saw the vast fish culture of Kerala. Let’s go a step further and check out the cooking style of seafoods of Kerala. The Seafood which primarily consists of variety of fish, shrimps, prawns and lobsters is also a source of income and business for Kerala.
The Basic Essentials
In Kerala, seafood is cooked in many methods using coconut milk, wrapping the fish in a banana leaf or simply frying the fish with lots of spices.
Clay Pot (Meen Chatti)
There is a special pot used for cooking fish or prawns curries in the authentic Kerala style. It is called ‘Meen Chatti’ and a minimum of 2 pots are found in every household (of people who eat fish). One can buy it with or without a lid which is again made of clay.
A ‘Chatti’ is an eathernware round pot with a curvy base, usually red or black in color. A new ‘chatti’ has to be ‘treated’ before it can be used. It is held over a hot stove for sometime then filled with hot starch water for days before it can be used for cooking.
A fruit Gambooge is used for preparing fish curries. It is called ‘Koddum Puli’ in the native language of Kerala i.e. Malayalam. It is basically added for flavour and to give a sour taste to the fish curries. Koddum Pulli is a fruit which is yellowish in color, then it is dried in hot sun till it turns black and used for cooking. It is either shredded into small pieces or used as a whole piece and submerged in a bowl of water before putting it in the curry.
This is optional. You do not need this for a simple fish or prawns curry. However, there are some dishes you need to use coconut milk for. Coconut milk is extracted from fresh coconuts. Its broken into two halves.
Then the coconut is grated into shreds. The shreds are then squeezed to extract the milk. Coconut milk is again seperated into 2 kinds. The thick milk and the thin milk. The thin milk is added first and then the thick milk is added just towards the end so that it does not curdle.
Spices are an essential ingredient for any Indian Cooking. The main spices required for seafood preparation is turmeric, black peppercorns, coriander powder, rock salt, red chilli powder, fenugreek powder and ginger-garlic paste.
Shallots, curry leaves and green chillies are also used for marination paste and to thicken the gravy. Shallots are tiny reddish onions, smaller than the normal onion and extensively used in Kerala cooking for garnishing.
Famous Seafood Preparation
1. Meen Pollichathu (Fish cooked in Banana Leaf)
2. Meen Vevichathu (Red Fish Curry)
The fish used for this curry can range anything from Kingfish to pomfrets to any fish that is fleshy. The ideal fish would be Kingfish. It is authentically made in the ‘Meen chatti’ shown above. The Red Fish curry is a simple dish made with spices esp. Kashmiri red chilli powder which gives a lot of color without making it too spicy. Coconut milk is not added to this curry.
Recipe for Meen Vevichatu
1/2 kg fish cut into pieces (Kingfish, pomfret or any fleshy fish)
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
A few curry leaves
1 onion, chopped
2 1/2 cm ginger, shredded
7 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp Kashmiri chilly powder or (according to your taste)
2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 pinches fenugreek powder
3 or 4 pieces tamarind (koddam puli) soaked in water
1 cup water
1/2 tsp coconut oil
1. Cut and clean the fish. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry mustard.
2. Then add curry leaves, chopped onion, ginger and garlic fry it for 2-3 minutes.
3. Put in the chilly powder, coriander powder, and turmeric powder.
3. Fry all this well.
4. Now add the fenugreek powder and the softened tamarind.
5. Pour in the water. Then add salt. After it boil add the fish.
6. Let it simmer until the gravy thickens and the fish is tender.
7. Lastly sprinkle the coconut oil, and leave it on the gas for a minute. Serve it with plain white rice.
3. Fish Molee (Fish stew with coconut milk)
This is stew made with fish fillets and other vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes. Here again the fish used are Kingfish or pomfrets and their kinds. This curry requires a longer duration of cooking. In this first the fish is fried and put in a thick coconut based curry along with other vegetables.
Recipe for Fish Molee
250 gms Fish(preferably fillets cut into 11/2″ pieces)
2 meduim onions/shallots (finely chopped)
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
8 green chillies split
1/2 tsp peppercorns crushed
2 tbsp oil
2 sprigs of curry leaves
3/4 cup thick coconut milk
1 cup thin coconut milk
2 small quartered tomato
1 half boiled potatoes cut into chunks
salt to taste
1. Cut fish into 11/2″ pieces or 6 pieces of equal size, clean well in enough water with little salt.
2. Heat oil in a pan, saute onion, ginger, garlic, green chillies and peppercorns till fragrance comes. Then reduce the heat and add coconut milk(thin) with salt to taste, stir well and bring it to a boil.
3. Arrange fish pieces, cover and cook over medium heat until the fish is done well. Reduce the heat and cook without the lid until the gravy thickens
4. Stir in tomatoes quartered, potatoes, curry leaves and coconut milk(thick) and cook over low heat until the first bubble comes
remove from the stove and serve it hot with rice or palappam(Kerala sweetened bread).
4. Meen Peera (Sardines with Grated Coconut)
This is a dry dish made with small fish like sardines or tuna and lots of grated coconut. A variety of small whole fresh water fish available in Kerala. If small fish are not available one can use fish fillets too.
Recipe for Meen Peera Pattichathu
1 small packet of Sardines or Tuna Chunks
3 Koddam Puli
1 cup Grated Coconut
1 tsp Ginger-Garlic paste
3 to 4 Green chillies
3 Sliced Shallots
A pinch Turmeric powder
salt – to taste
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 sprig Curry leaves
1. Soak koddum puli in warm water and keep aside.
2. Mix together grated coconut, ginger-garlic paste, shallots, green chillies, turmeric powder, koddum puli pieces and salt with hand.
3. Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds into it and when it splutters add the grated coconut mixture and curry leaves into it.
4. Saute well for a while. Finally add the fish pieces and mix it together.