Actually, meen pollichathu is a Syrian Christian delicacy from Kerala. Fresh fishes like pomfret or pearl spot are flavored in a spicy, tangy marinade and grilled to perfection wrapped in banana leaves to lock in the taste and moisture. Result? Zingy, tender, succulent fish--simply delish! Fish fillets like king fish can also be prepared this way. To me, a vacation in Kerala is never the same without enjoying this delicacy from the Grand hotel in Ernakulam, Kochi—they serve one of the best grills in town.
Karimeen pollichathu — Pearlspot fish grilled in banana leaf
For the marinade
1 teaspoon pepper powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon coconut oil for shallow frying
For the sauce
2 cups onion, finely chopped, or shallots, finely sliced (I used onions)
2 tomato, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, crushed
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, crushed
3 fresh green chilies, finely chopped
3 stalk fresh curry leaves
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoon kashmiri chili powder
½ teaspoon coriander powder
2 tablespoon oil, plus extra for grilling
1 tablespoon coconut vinegar (optional)
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 large, fresh banana leaf, cleaned
Scale, clean and rinse the fish thoroughly. I usually use fresh lemon juice or vinegar to rinse the fish and rub it with salt, to keep it fresh and odorless. Make horizontal gashes on both sides of the fish. Mix the pepper, turmeric and salt, and rub all over the fish. Set aside for 15 minutes.
In a non-stick frying pan, heat oil over medium-low flame and shallow fry the fish for 4 minutes on each side until bronzed. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan, without wiping it clean, heat two tablespoons of oil. Add chilies and stir for about 30 seconds. Tip in onions and cook, stirring, until slightly softened. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for a minute. Add curry leaves.
In a small bowl, mix the powdered chili, turmeric and coriander with a little water to form a paste. Make a well in the center of the sauce and add the spice mixture. Sauté for one minute. Next, add tomatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add coconut vinegar and mix well. Stir in the coconut milk, season, and gently simmer for about 5 minutes until the sauce is thick but still moist. Divide evenly into two portions and set aside.
To make the banana leaf pliable, carefully hold it over an open flame until it goes a bright green. Cut the midrib off the back and slit into two pieces from the center vein, provided the leaf is broad enough to hold the fish. Tear thin long strings from the midrib for tying the parcels. Brush the leaves with oil, spoon a portion of the sauce into the center of each leaf and place the fish over the sauce. Make sure to coat the fish--outside, inside and both sides--with the sauce. Wrap leaf around the fish to cover, and tie with a banana string, or use a kitchen twine to secure. Take care not to tear the leaf while wrapping. Torn leaves? No worries, just wrap the banana packages in aluminum foil so that the sauce does not leak while grilling.
Place the parcels onto a lightly greased thick-bottomed pan, cover, and bake for 3-4 minutes on each side, over low heat. Take care not to leave the parcels on heat for long, as the sauce will become dry and burnt (I learned this the hard way!). Remove from the pan, place on a serving plate and open the packages at the table. Serve sizzling with a slice of lime, if you like. Hot steamed rice or soft bread is the perfect complement to the tender spiced fish.
Note: If banana leaves are not available, use aluminum foil or parchment paper for perfect parcels. I usually cook in foil packages.