Meen Pollichathu – Roasted Pomfret Steamed in Banana Leaves – A Kerala Delicacy

2010
03.23

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You know your family eats a lot of fish when your preschooler looks into the fish tank at school and screams, “Look Mama, fish!! Yummy!!”. Then, pretends to reach out and gulp down the little fishes, rubs his tiny pot belly and says “Mmm tasty, that was goood!!”. Of course, I gave my usual God-whose-kid-is-that?  look and walked away, pretending like I had nothing to do with him. Don’t worry, I never lose him during these acts of disownment. The little piece of embarrassment always follows me, like a gosling does a mother goose. I don’t blame him either – obviously, the only reason I didn’t abandon him completely and let him hold my hand a little while later (when I was sure, we were off the radar of the folks who heard his verbal sacrilege by the aquarium), was because I understand it must be hard for his 3 year old brain to distinguish pet from food, when most of time, we are serving him dinner with what the neighbors flaunt around as pets :P.

Yes, we the Tharakans, are die-hard carnivores and fish for us is a staple. Our recent favorite has become the Meen Pollichathu. Traditionally, this recipe requires that the fish along with the spices be wrapped tight in banana leaves and roasted on a greased pan, allowing the fish to cook in the steam trapped inside the leaves. Instead of grilling them in a pan, I bake them in the oven. The banana leaf imparts an amazing flavor to the fish  and if you are lucky to get your hands on some(I get mine from the Asian market), that would be the ideal way to make this recipe. If you can’t, use aluminum foil for wrapping and rest assured, minus the banana leaf flavor, everything else will taste just like the original.

If it is your first time trying this recipe, I’d suggest you use one of the less fishy fishes like salmon, halibut, tilapia or any other of your favorites. If you like it, only then try the recipe with the whole pomfrets. I say this because fish recipes can get too overbearing at times and you need to approach it with caution until you have acquired a taste for it.  Also if you are using fillet and not the whole fish, reduce the spices a tad bit and use only 1/2 the quantity of lemon juice mentioned in the recipe.

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Ingredients

2 whole small pomfrets, cleaned 
salt  to taste 
11/2 tsp black pepper powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
4 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp kerala garam masala
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds powdered
2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
2 tbsp coconut Oil/ refined vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 –3 sprigs of curry leaves
1 cup finely sliced shallot
2 green chilies
2 medium tomatoes. chopped
3/4 cup thick coconut milk (from the can would be perfect)
12 thin slices of fresh lemon ( this makes a huge difference in the taste and is a must)

Directions

  • Make a few slits till the bone on both sides of the fishes, perpendicular to the spine. (If you are using  fillets, omit this step)
  • Mix salt, 1 tsp black pepper powder, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tsp each of red chili and paprika powder and 1/2 tbsp of ginger-garlic paste and lemon juice in a bowl.
  • Marinate the fish with the above mixture inside out and let it sit in the fridge for 3-4 hours.
  • Heat oil in a pan, slightly roast the fish until it is caramelized on both sides but not fully cooked.
  • Take out the fish and set aside. If there is any liquid from the marinade left, keep it aside to add while making the masala.
  • In the same pan, splutter mustard seeds, add fenugreek powder, green chilies, curry leaves, shallots and sauté until the shallots are golden brown.
    Add tomatoes, all the remaining spice powders, ginger-garlic, leftover marinade and sauté  until the tomatoes form a mush.
  • Add thick coconut milk and salt to the masala and sauté on low heat until the masala mixture thickens and reduces to about half the original quantity.
  • Add fish and coat it thoroughly with the masala gravy.
  • Wrap each fish along with 6 lemon slices each(3 on each side) in a piece of banana leaf or greased foil. Secure with tooth pick if using a the leaf.
  • Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes.
  • Garnish with lemon wedges and onions, serve hot.
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    6 Responses to “Meen Pollichathu – Roasted Pomfret Steamed in Banana Leaves – A Kerala Delicacy”

    1. vinod says:

      Repeated it this weekend for a bbq with a whole red snapper – just with minor modifications to the spice quantities. Came out really well….

    2. vinod says:

      Came out “AMAZING”!!! – Thanks!

    3. Shiniga Ratish says:

      Hey, awesome recipe. Tried it out today. Came out really well. I never liked the taste of pomfret here in US, but today i devoured it.:)

    4. Pravs says:

      Delicious looking fish !

    5. Dahlia says:

      Divine! Delicious, toothsome, delectable, etc etc – all the adjectives!! Taste buds dancing to the treat!!! Jus tried it today. Thanks Julie!

    6. Anjana says:

      I tried the fish.My kids and hubby loved it.But myself I didn’t like the smoky flavour of the banana leaf.So next time,I going to try with foil for myself.

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