November 22, 2011

Claypot Fish Curry with Coconut Milk — a welcome simplicity to the dining table that couldn’t be more delicious

There are so many festivities this time of the year, I realize I haven’t posted anything simple, or laid-back, for a while now.

High on my list of comfort food would be something pretty traditional from the coastal idyll of my roots. Fish and seafood, for example, would be perfect as my homeland—Kerala—is particularly known for its brilliant seafood delicacies. It makes me smile in reminiscence of the visit from the fishmonger carrying a basket of daily catch balanced on their head, letting out a long howl at the top of their voice, koooooooo…, announcing their arrival. It is a different scenario these days where they turn up on bicycles or mopeds honking their arrival in the neighborhood. People living in towns invariably go to fish markets or supermarkets to buy seafood.
Seafood is brain food. You know that, right?

I'm sharing a quick-fix fish curry that adorns our lunch table very often; an absolute favorite with the family. I used Sultan Badi, a white fleshy fish, locally available in Doha stores. Any firm white-fleshed fish will work here, or even prawns, or whatever is freshest at the market.
This earthy, soup-like curry is robustly flavored with creamy coconut milk, and basted in coconut oil. Aromatics like chili, turmeric, ginger, garlic and curry leaves are the base of the gravy cooked in a traditional earthern pot made from red clay. The other key ingredient that imparts a unique flavor is kodampuli.  Also know as gambodge, it is a sundried fruit the size of small orange, used as a souring agent, particularly in fish curries, in Kerala. It has a very strong stench and slightly smoky flavor. All these ingredients when cooked together creates a highly satisfying result, and the cooking vessel—clay pot—uplifts the flavors.

Outcome? Something rich, pungent and totally delicious.. mmm.
Now if there is one defining staple that I cannot do without in my pantry, it’s the curry leaf. I’m highly addicted to using curry leaves in my cooking. There’s nothing like frying freshly plucked leaves in a bit of fat—preferably coconut oil—along with toasted black mustard seeds and dry red chilies for adding a unique wallop to traditional dishes. Almost all Kerala dishes are flavored by this simple yet ingenious technique known as katuku-varakkal in Malayalam. It’s not only comforting; it’s pure bliss, hands down.

See, curry leaf has no relation to the commercial curry powder available in the supermarket shelves. Oh yeah. It’s simply an aromatic herb, called karivepila in Malayalam, with almond shaped dark green leaves that are added to dishes for an appealing savory fragrance. Besides its culinary uses, Ayurvedic medicine uses curry leaves and the stem of this shrub for medicinal purposes.

Okay, I’m not going to linger long. It’s the day before Thanksgiving, the quintessential American holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who is celebrating.

Before I leave you with this delicious curry, a note of caution: don’t use sweetened Thai canned milk available in stores, for this preparation. Ideally go for Indian or Sri Lankan products that are not so sweet. The curry is a bit on the spicier side. If you prefer it milder, omit the green chilies and add more coconut milk to adjust the taste.
Claypot fish curry with coconut milk

Ingredients
Serves 4

250g fish, cleaned and sliced into bite size portions
2 ½ tablespoon coconut oil, divided
half of one small onion, thinly sliced
1 large tomato, halved and quartered
8 fresh curry leaves
1 green chili, slit lengthwise
½ teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
2 ½ teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
2 ½ cups water
2 medium pieces kudampuli or kokum, briefly rinsed and soaked in hot water for 5 minutes
½ cup coconut milk (I used canned milk without diluting it)
salt, to taste
Directions

Heat 1 ½ tablespoon oil in a clay pot or manchatti, over medium-low heat. Gently fry the onion for about 2 minutes. Tip in tomatoes, slit chili, and gently bruised or torn curry leaves. Cook everything together until tomatoes become saucy, for about 3 minutes. Add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for a minute, then tip in chili powder and turmeric. Wet the masala with a generous drizzle of oil and stir fry for few seconds. 

Pour in water along with kudampuli and its soaking liquid; bring everything to boil over high heat. Add fish, and season to taste. Bring the curry to boil before reducing heat to medium-high. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, to give flavors time to meld and the fish enough time to soak in the spices.

Finally, stir in coconut milk and simmer for 2 more minutes. Adjust seasoning. Drizzle the rest of the oil over the curry, remove pot from heat and sit for 5 minutes.

Serve hot with a bowl of steamed rice, crusty bread, or chappati—whatever you fancy.
Perhaps this don’t sound civilized—my folks did not hesitate to mop up the last yummy bits of the delicious gravy from the pot. Heck even if it sounds uncivilized, so what? I confess it felt like a compliment to me!

71 comments:

  1. I have to bookmark this. Sounds and looks so good. I suspect, I have had this sometime in my ammamma's home ( only my mum's family eats non vegetarian). Gorgeous pictures.

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  2. Fish curry looks simply amazing. Awesome preparation.
    Deepa

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  3. love ur clicks....and ur fish curry looks super delicious

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  4. I just fancy this bowl of goodness. will make it tomorrow.

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  5. Oh man,I am drooling..looks fantastic and the color is so inviting..

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  6. I love the spread here. The photos are really immaculate with just a bit of blow out in some of the frames - trying high key work or what ?;-))( - I guess the dark subjects make it like that)

    I don't eat fish but am tempted sorely to try out this. So when are you in India next > One needs to book tickets and all that you know l;-)



    I am making this comment from the Feta cheese page.

    Anoop Negi http://www.flickr.com/photos/ezee123/

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  7. It's droolworty and simply tempting!

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  8. Ani, Deepa, Chitra, Suja: Thanks a ton for your prompt comments lovelies!

    Hi Sayantani, plz do, and let me know too :)

    Thanks so much for your feedback and critique, Anoop! I kinda fancy taking overexposed pics & I still need to figure out how to control the blow outs, ha. It's a real challenge to shoot dark tone food pics, esp when I do natural backlight, and with a p&s camera. I'm sure a D-SLR would work wonders when the lighting is low. Okay, I'm gonna check out this cheese site of yours :))

    Treat and Trick: Thanks so much dear!

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  9. a favourite i can almost taste it :)

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  10. oh lovely! only you can do such a magnificent portrayal of our humble "meen curry" A similar fish curry is a staple at my dinner table too.. though i dont use the tomato.. and have a double dose of ginger :)

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  11. This is my favorite curry. Looks very inviting and drool worthy. love all your props, back ground, vessels,.... that you use for clicks.

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  12. Lovely pics! Fish curry is teasing me, I better make this to keep it quite. :o)

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  13. beautiful clicks..flavourful and delicious meen curry..

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  14. im thinking it would taste gorgeous with some puttu...yummmm... :)

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  15. curry looks irresistible and quit addictive..fabulous clicks...

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  16. This looks so flavorful. Can this be cooked not using a clay pot? I know it won't probably have the same authentic feel but will there be adjustments made in the heating if a clay pot isn't available? Thanks!

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  17. I love the photographs on your blog. The fish curry looks absolutely tempting!

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  18. Lovely recipe and awesome pics....

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  19. Reddish fish curry with coconut milk is something I started eating recently, thanks to my maid who is from Cochin. Usually we make red fish curry without coconut milk and tomato.

    Lovely presentation. And same pinch, I have the same kind of spoon (as do so many malayalis) :)

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  20. Was reading Anoop's and your comments on the photos. Does a DSLR actually make a huge difference? Do you need to learn photography to be able to use it?

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  21. Awesome pics. They are so beautiful :)

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  22. Really good pics, and lovely descriptions.. Just curious as to which part of Kerala you belong to.. coz I always assumed that fish curries with coconut milk would require coriander (mallippodi) as well.. and use tomatoes for the tang... instead if kudambuli..

    -Liby Eldos

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  23. i am one of your silent followers who has been following your blog since September. only today while going through your post did i realise that you are in Doha. what a coincidence!!! pls do let me know if you organise any cooking/phtography classes ;)!!!

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  24. What stunning presentation!!!
    Prathima Rao
    Prats Corner

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  25. wowwwwwww.......fishcurry kandu kothi aayittu vayya.........beautiful clicks

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  26. Awesome..Thanks for posting this..First time here..I am your new follower..Do check my blog sometime..

    Aarthi
    http://yummytummy-aarthi.blogspot.com/

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  27. absolutely love fish curry with coconut milk...curry looks delicious dear...amazing clicks too

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  28. Absolutely gorgeous posting here, beautiful photography of a luscious curry.
    Thank You.

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  29. Torview: Anything spicy for us desis :)

    Sarah, tomatoes add a special flavor, trust me. I just cannot do without them in this recipe :)

    Thanks Zari, it’s one of my fav too!

    Why Sumee, you better do that..! :)

    Thanks Sobha!

    Nisha, this’s awesome with puttu, and even kappa :)

    Thank you, Diva!

    MyFudo: Claypot sure adds extra flavor to the curry. You could certainly rustle up something close enough even without a pot, or any adjustments to the timing. Personally, I’ve always cooked in a clay pot :)

    Thanks so much themustardseed, Neha!

    Indu, guess what? My mom’s from Kochi too. She always makes red fish curry with coconut milk and I thought it’s just her—my parents are not too keen on real spicy food ☺ Now for the camera, I strongly believe that a D-SLR will give more options in creating better photography. You don’t really need a photography course to use an SLR. But if you have the resources, then why not!

    Thank you sweet Paaka Shaale!

    Liby, thanks so much for visiting and for your feedback! My background is a bit complex. Mom’s from Kochi, dad from Thrissur— they settled in Thrissur. But, I was raised in UAE. You should try this recipe—don’t use coriander here, it’s more like a mulaku curry with coconut milk ☺ And the combo of kudmapuli with tomoto adds a really delicious zest to the sauce.

    Hey Jean, welcome to my space and thank you for your interest! So where in Doha do you live and how can I get in touch?

    Prathima, Ganga, Kurryleaves: Thank you girls!

    Aarthi, thanks for visiting!

    Hi Anthony, thank you for your lovely note!

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  30. This was a bit late Nash,caught up with so many things but had to comment on this fish curry.Firstly,this is how we cook fish curry too with kodampuli and an absolute favorite among us,but with less chilli and coconut oil.I love to eat the leftover gravy next day with an omelette and a piece of bread.So divine!
    hey,I too buy the Sultan fish here.
    Love your photography Nash and how you get creative with each ingredients individually.Love to get some lessons from you too..

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  31. Your photos are amazing! Love the colours :)

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  32. Love to have this curry with Kappa :) ... Amazing snaps as always !!!

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  33. I love the idea of cooking fish curry in a clay pot, it will give the dish an other dimension. They used to cook more in the past with those pots and on a open fire. Tasty traditions shouldnt be forgotten, they r full of wisdom.
    Curry is realy a useful savory leave. I barely cook without it when I cook indian. Your curry looks so yummy. Great post!

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  34. Thanks Nash! I am wondering whether I should get one, but don't know where to turn for advice...If you have any other inputs, please share... :)

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  35. Cooking in manchatti gives the real authentic taste. I envy you for the possession of one. :)

    I agree, canned coconut milk makes the process a lot more easier. However, the ones we get here are way too sweet for spicy curries like this. So, I prefer using fresh coconut instead :)

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  36. wow amazing....looks delicious....kodipikkuna clicks

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  37. Thanks for the link, good one...

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  38. yummy yumm!!! super ayittundu Nash..!!! 2 weeks back i was just experimenting with curry leaves pic and i have something very similar to urs ;)...

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  39. baby babaey...how you been?

    i been here and here...right here in your meen chatti ;p

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  40. The curry looks very inviting. only few months before I have come across kodumpuli thru some cooking telecast. Sometimes, my mind will think about preparing some authentic recipes for comfort craving as you said. Yum!

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  41. The color of the curry gravy is perfect!

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  42. This fish curry would make any malayalee nostalgic and crave for some very badly.

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  43. Bright pictures. love its red color ;)

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  44. Nash, I tried this one yesterday, absolutely delicious! Added a pinch of fenugreek powder at the end, my mother-in-law's version of fish curry. This recipe is heavenly, thank you so much.

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  45. A great way of cooking a curry. That is one droolworthy dish. Fabulous flavors!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  46. The earthen aroma n taste imparted by the clay pot cooking must have taken the dish to whole another level. I love the deep color n your pics are a delight every time :)
    USMasala

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  47. Just found your blog through Season with Spices! Saw the fish curry and came running :) Awesome photographs!

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  48. please do contact me through my email- jeansusan@gmail.com. i was trying to mail & then realised that your email is nowhere in sight on ur blog.. let me know!!!

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  49. This looks delicious. Would love for you to share this with us over at foodepix.com.

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  50. Hey Farwin, looks like we have a lot in common. Lovely!

    Thanks sweet Chinmayie!

    Oh yea, Foodiecorner, it’s it the best thing?

    Helene, in our place we always cook fish in claypots. I actually have a couple of them in different sizes with me here in Doha too :)

    True Ayeesha, I’ve observed that the Thai canned coconut milk is way too sweet. So I buy either product from Kerala or Sri Lanka, available in the stores here in Doha.

    Biny, thanks hon!

    Indu, Nags actually has a lot of info on clicking with p&s and she’s a good friend too. Plz mail her if you have any questions, she’s very friendly.

    Sarah, I guess this goes to show that we have similar tastes, elle? :)

    Hey Ginza, missed you babes. I’ll mail you soon, promise!

    Uma, I was not huge on kodampuli until I got married. My hubby just loves fish curry with kudampuli, and now I’m a convert :)

    Hey Anh, thanks dear!

    True Vidhya, there’s nothing like fish curry with rice for lunch elle?

    So nice of you, Chitra!

    Ohh Mala, thanks so much sweetness! I’m so pleased to read this, really. I use fenugreek seeds too. See, fish is a staple for us, for lunch, and I have quite a few recipes for fish :)

    Aw, thanks Rosa!

    So sweet of you Puja!

    Hey Manju, welcome and thanks for your nice note!

    Thanks much Princy!

    Jean, sorry for the delay. You can write to me at nashirausef@gmail.com.

    Thanks FoodEpix!

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  51. Love love LOVE tasty curries! Many thanks for the excellent recipe!!

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  52. This looks absolutely amazing. I love fish curries - they're my favourite kind. Your ingredients look so fresh and bright too. Whilst I have curry leaves growing in my backyard I'm not sure how to get kudampuli. Might try to substitute some preserved cumquats instead!

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  53. Amy, thanks you for visiting and for your lovely note!

    Hey Shez, I've never cooked with kudampuli so I can't comment. On the other hand, you can substitute kudampuli with green mango or tamarind paste, if you like

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  54. Wow!! Kothiyavunnu.... The fish curry looks soooo good... and spicy. enikku venam

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  55. That is 2 1/2 tbsp of oil?

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  56. Thanks Roshni!

    Anonymous: Yes 2 .5 tablespoon. It might sound like an astonishing amount, but the coconut milk and coconut oil is the hallmark of this curry. However, for a healthier version, feel free to cut down on the fat to suit your requirements :)

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  57. Congrats on your win girl!! :)

    You truly deserve a huge applause with your quality pics with the point and shoot.While everyone these days try their best with exp slrs you have proven the best with your creativity!
    Red fish curry is my most favourite among all!!
    Lovely lovely shots!!

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  58. Aw, that's so sweet of you Bharathy. Thank you lovely!

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  59. Jus saw that you have won the Host's choice award at the DGMBLiT contest!! Congratulations girl!! You deserve it :) Just love the photographs as usual and this time there is enough proof of how much your pics are loved :P
    The fish curry is tempting and looks fiery, warm and spicy!

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  60. This curry looks so tempting. Love the color..red n spicy.

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  61. Nashira gorgeous pic, bumped in today...back lighting of your pic's is beautiful and clay fish, ouch she is going to haunt me in my dreams till i find a way to cook :)

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  62. Just chanced upon your blog; beautiful pictures. I used the point and shoot for a very long time...
    Curry looks gorgeous.

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  63. what amazing pictures. I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!

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  64. Hello Nashi, am here after your lovely comment on my blog! When jumped when I saw this link! My parents were brought up in Kozhikode/Kannur so I am familiar with this kind of curry. Mama used curry leaves and tomatoes too, but I can't remember if she used kodampuli or just plain tamarind. Either way, I would eat my way through that entire chutti of curry!!! I really, really, REALLY, want that clay pot and being new to Doha, am still on the lookout! One day....in the meantime, I think I will devote another half an hour going through these lovely pages.

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  65. Lovely pictures and great recipe. We make fish curry with coconut in a slight different way. I am gonna try this anyways. Food lovers will always try varieties. Even I have a recipe area to publish my experiments. If get time look at this also.
    http://www.ninscafe.com/fish-curry-with-coconut/
    May ring some bells for a new thought of another great recipe :)

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A million thank you's for stopping by, taking the time to connect, and coming back to visit again. I genuinely appreciate each of your kind thoughts, lovely words, love and support. Happy, happy to hear from you, and hope to see you again!

♥ Nashi