This is one way of doing the pollichathu – which is basically steaming a partly fried fish with some onion masala in a banana leaf. The end result is just so good that you would end up literally licking the banana leaf as well! Though the process is slightly a bit long, it is quite easy to make and delicious to have. I am hoping to try with other fishes as well soon, though karimeen or pearlspot is always the best when made this way!
- FOR FISH:
- 3 pearl spots (karimeen), cleaned and washed
- 2 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- ½ tsp fennel powder
- ½ tsp garam masala powder
- 3 tbsp vinegar
- Salt to taste
- Coconut oil for shallow frying
- FOR MASALA:
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- ½ cup shallots, chopped
- 2 medium onions, minced
- 2 inch pc ginger
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 green chillies
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- ½ tsp red chilli powder
- ½ tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
- ¼ tsp black pepper powder
- ½ tsp fennel powder
- ¼ tsp garam masala powder
- 1 large or 2 medium tomato, chopped
- 1 small pc tamarind or gamboge, soaked in ½ cup hot water (optional but highly recommended)
- 2 large banana leaf, with center stalk taken out
- Curry leaves for garnish
- Mix ingredients from red chilli to salt into a paste. Draw slits on the "karimeen". Coat well on the fish and leave the marination for at least half an hour. The more you keep, the more the masala seeps into the fish.
- Heat oil in a fry pan. Fry the fish on both the sides till browned. You do not need to fully cook the fish. Set aside.
- In the same pan, add coconut oil. Fry the curry leaves briefly.
- Add the shallots and onions and saute till browned.
- In a mortar and pestle, crush the ginger, garlic and green chillies and add into the onion mixture. Saute till the raw smell is gone.
- Add the masala powders and saute till fried. Sprinkle some water to avoid sticking at the bottom.
- Finally add the tomato and cook till the tomatoes get mashed up.
- If using the tamarind/ gamboge, squeeze into the water well. Discard the residue and pour the water in along with the tomato.
- Wash the banana leaf well and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Light up the flame and run the banana leaf on top of it till stiff. Hold it just close enough for the heat to touch and ensure not to burn. You will notice the leaf becoming slightly dullish green and stiff. Do this for all the three pieces cut.
- Place some masala in the banana leaf, then put the fish and rub some more masala on the top. Wrap the pack, just like how you would do with a newspaper.
- Tie it tightly using a twig, or with the center stalk like I did.
- Heat a chapathi tawa or a fry pan. Once heated, keep on medium flame and put the wrap on it. Cook on closed lid for 10 minutes on one side, flip and cook for another 10 minutes. Not necessary that the leaf needs to be charred, but ensure that it changes its color.
- Serve as is in a plate. To enjoy it, open the twig, carefully remove the wrap. Using a fork - or leave it, your hands if it is cool enough to handle - push out the soft pieces of fish and enjoy with some Kerala porattas, chapathis or even rice!
The tamarind is optional, but I find it adding so much flavor to the masala.
If you find the masala too spicy, add a couple of tablespoons of coconut milk at the end to settle it down.
Instead of using the chapathi tawa, you can bake the parcels! Rub a little coconut oil on a baking tray, layer them and bake them in a preheated 180 degrees oven for 10-12 minutes.
You can use any meaty fish instead of karimeen - king fish, pomfret, hamour works wonderful!