Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fiery Red Kerala Fish Curry

Burning hot chilly powder is at war with soury black Cocum in this fish curry. The aroma that reminds me of home and my Amma which delightfully casts out the raw fishy smell (that kauchi smell) and tastes its best at least 3 days after it is cooked. This curry is alive because the ingredients continue to infuse flavour into the fish in the refridgerator!

Traditionally, this dish must have many names but "Kudumpulli Meen Vevichathu" is probably the most appropriate. That directly translates to "Cocum Fish Steamed/Boiled".

I only use Spanish Mackerel (ikan tenggiri in Malay or naee meen in Malayalam) for this dish. Spanish Mackerel is a nice oily white fish. In fact naee meen literally means "ghee fish". If you can't find Spanish Mackerel, any meaty white fish will do. If you have issues with bones, Spanish Mackerel is good as well as it is easily deboned either before cooking or while you're eating it.
The mackerel should be sliced into one-inch thick pieces and if it is a big fish, you can halve or quarter each slice.

First of all, clean the fish. If you get cleaned fish from your fishmonger, that is great. But this additional cleaning makes a difference (or at least a psychological comfort for me). Place fish in a deep pan, and add some salt and water and mix it up to make sure the salt gets all over the fish then, rinse the fish and keep aside. If you like you can also add some of the cocum soaked water during this step as well.

Next up, gather up the remaining ingredients. The following quantities are estimated for about 6-8 half-slices of a big mackerel.

Dry stuff

You will need, a few tablespoons of chilly powder (pure chilly powder is preferred..i stay away from the more popular commercial brands because of coloring additives, try Nirrapara), and a pinch of turmeric powder. Also take a teaspoon of black mustard seeds, and a sprig of fresh curry leaves (these are usually available in any Indian family's garden (ask around!) or in a freezer at an Indian spice shop), and a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds.

You will also need three or four big pieces of black cocum. You can soak these in water but its not necessary.

Fresh stuff

Chop about two big red onions and mince up a few tablespoons of fresh ginger (i love adding lots of ginger!).

On to the process:

You will need to use a deep wide casserole pan (each slice of fish should sit in its own space in your pan and not atop one another).

Heat a few tablespoons oil in the pan and add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and fenugreek seeds. Use a splatter cover here because those little mustard seeds are angry little fellows when subjected to heat and will explode (which needs to happen to bring out their flavour). The curry leaves also react loudly to hot oil which is all part of the fun. I like to think of it as an indicator to the family that I am cooking in the kitchen!

As soon as the first round of spices have popped, add your chopped onions and ginger and saute them until the onions are nice and soft. Maybe five or six minutes. Once this is done, put in your chilly powder (about four heaped tablespoons for six pieces of fish) and the pinch of turmeric. The chilly powder will wrap around all your onions and spices like a blanket and you will initially see a dry mix in your pan. This is normal so keep mixing them up. If at this point the pan is heavily smoking, just reduce the heat a little and allow the dry spices to cook. This may take another five or six minutes. At the end of six minutes, the oil should be slowly separating from the onion mix which will start to look a bit wet, suggesting the "rawness" of the chilly powder is disappearing. Now you can add about 4 cups of water. A nice loud sizzle indicates that your pan is heated is at the optimum level. Allow this mixture to boil while you season with salt and add the cocum pieces. This basically creates your "curry". When the curry starts boiling add in your fish pieces and make sure each piece is covered by the curry. Cover the pan and let simmer on medium heat until the fish is cooked. If your pieces are not very thick, this will probably only take ten or twelve minutes.

When the fish pieces are cooked, switch off the fire and let the curry rest for about half an hour before serving. You can serve it immediately but the taste will differ.

When I am serving this dish, I usually make it the day before and refrigerate over night. I then just heat it up over the stove just before serving. The amount of onions, ginger, chilly powder you add depends on how much curry you want. If you want lots of curry, use more. Being a pretty fiery curry, for one piece of fish (for one serve) I only pour over about two or three tablespoons of the curry onto the plate. Before serving, I would remove the curry leave sprigs and the cocum pieces (if any are left - they should have dissolved while cooking anyway).

This fish curry is delicious with hot white rice or even red rice (Matta rice from Kerala) for an authentic combination. You can eat it with salty banana chips or some yogurt to soothe the palate and your favourite South Indian vegetable dish. Try a cabbage and carrot thoran (see this link for my cousin Sojo's recipe

"Simple joys of meals,grateful am I indeed, Never worry how next it comes, but always hope for a delicious feed"

1 comment:

  1. my favourite fish curry!!! I can even have ethakka appam with this!!!