Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Meen chaaru / Fish Curry straight from Kerala

Fish is a staple food in the diet of most people living along the coastal region in India. In Kerala, many families can have a meal of just rice and fish with no accompaniments and be content. There's an oft-said  joke that a person from the coastal area can have a plateful of plain rice just by sniffing the aroma of fish wafting in from a neighbor's house.

The last time I went to the fish market I got some black pomfret and decided to make this fish curry with it. Traditionally in Kerala, this fish curry is cooked on a wooden fire in a chattee and is supposed to be served only the next day. Since coconut is not added to this fish curry it keeps well for the next day by which time the spices have seeped into the fish and the gravy has absorbed the fish flavor as well. The mud chattee, the smoke from the wood fire and the kodumpully (type of tamarind / kokum) all lend their own flavor to this curry. This curry is thick and very very hot and hence just a few drops would be enough for a ball of rice. In Kerala, balls of rice are made and one side of these balls are lightly dipped in the curry and popped into the mouth. Anymore curry and one would have the whole galaxy bursting in the mouth, it is that hot.
This recipe is not that hot since I have added coconut milk to it and hence it also does not keep for the next day unless put into the frig. Though this curry does not have the flavors of the chattee and the wood fire, the inclusion of the kodumpully, the cheriya ulli (sambhar/small onion) and the karuveppila (curry leaves) manage to make it a yummy curry. Kodumpully is a sour fruit that is first sun dried and again dried in smoke imparting a smoky flavor to fish curries. It is the kokum of Kerala and is primarily added to fish curries as a souring agent.
Fish - 250gms cleaned pieces (any fish -sardine, mackerel, pomfret, king fish)
Sambhar onions - 10 to 12
Garlic - 10 to 12
Ginger - 1.5 inch
Red chilli pwd - 1.5tbsp
Coriander pwd - 1.5tbsp
Turmeric pwd - 1tsp
Fenugreek pwd - 1tsp (fenugreek seeds roasted and powdered)
Coconut milk - 6tbsp
Vegetable / Sunflower Oil - 2tbsp
Coconut oil - 2tbsp
Curry leaves - 4 to 5 sprigs
Slice the shallots or sambhar onions and finely chop ginger and garlic, Mix the red chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and fenugreek powder together in a bowl and make a paste with a little water.
Heat a kadhai, add 2tbsp oil and 1tbsp coconut oil and when hot add the sliced onions and fry till light golden. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the masala paste and fry till the oil starts coming out and the mass comes together into a ball. Add 1.5cups water, 3 sprigs curry leaves, salt and kodumpully and let it boil. Check for taste and add the fish pieces and let it cook. Add a couple of tbsp of coconut milk and when done add the rest of the coconut milk, curry leaves and let it come close to a boil. Pour the remaining 1tbsp coconut oil on top, cover with a lid and immediately take off the heat. 
- The curry tastes best after letting it rest for a couple of hours.
- Use a mix of Kashmiri chilli powder and hot chilli powder to get the red color along with the hot spiciness.
- The fenugreek may make the curry taste a little bitter at the start but let it rest and the bitterness will go down.
- Use at least a little coconut oil to get the authentic Kerala taste.
This Fish Curry - Kerala style goes to the "Side dish mela", hosted by cooking4allseasons.

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