Kerala is the ‘land of spices’. It has been on the tourist route for centuries as well as being a trading hub. Its climate and soil are perfect for growing pepper, cardamom, curry leaves, chilies, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and turmeric.
Coconut is king and features in some form or other, be it the pulp, the oil, cream or milk.
Unripe mango, tamarind pulp, vinegar and lime juice add the zing to the recipes.
Being a travellers’ hub there is a great exchange of Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and Syrian flavours.
We dined at the Malibar in Kochi, a beautiful colonial era building with a superb house band,The tabla throbbed and moaned, an instrument very like a ceramic pot seemed to call up sounds from below the ground and over the top a wooden flute reeled off lines of beautiful melodies . They had it going on.
And the Pollichathu Fish Curry. Fragrant, sumptuous, so with no further ado…
Prep 45 minutes
Cook 30 minutes
4 small fish, about 500g/1lb each, cleaned but with head and tail left in – it looks better (in Kerala they use a Pearl Spot fish) or 4 filleted fish.
3 tablespoons coconut oil
20 fresh curry leaves
5 large shallots (roughly 400g), peeled and finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
3cm ginger, peeled and grated
2 green finger chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 red chillies (optional – if you can take the heat)
400g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
100ml coconut cream
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of lime juice with zested rind
Banana leaves – (if unavailable you can wrap the fish in baking paper)
Preheat the oven to 200C/390F.
Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and, when hot, add the curry leaves and leave them to crisp up for a minute. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add the shallots and cook for eight minutes, until they are translucent and just starting to brown.
Add the garlic, ginger and chopped chillies. Cook for three or four minutes, until your eyes smart and the fragrance of garlic and ginger fills the kitchen.
Add the tomatoes. Cook until they start breaking down.
Add the tamarind paste, coconut cream, turmeric, salt and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until it thickens.
Take off the heat and cool.
Add the lime juice and rind
Spread the sauce inside & outside the fish if whole, or over the filets. Leave to marinate 1 hour.
Place the fish or fish fillets with the sauce on the banana leaves or baking paper. Have enough so you can wrap the fish up like a package. Bring the banana leaf or the paper up at either side and fold it over. Repeat on the other two sides. Tie with twine – like a present.
Place the parcels on the baking sheet.
Bake for approx 30 minutes.
If you use whole fish it will take longer.
Serve the parcels immediately with rice.