Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Kerala Fish Curry

Nadan Mulaku Curry - My Version

Ask any non-vegetarian Malayalee what their favourite Kerala dish is, and it would most probably be "Kappa vevichathu/puzhukku and Meen-mulaku curry" - Tapioca and Fish cooked in thick chilli gravy. 

Kerala is a coastal state bordered by the Arabian Sea, abundantly rich in aquatic fauna and flora. and its coastline extends to a length of almost 590kms. Fishing plays a crucial role in supporting Kerala's economy especially through exports to various parts of the globe. Oman, where I live in too like Kerala is a country bordered by the Arabian Sea and therefore this country too is abundantly rich in fishes. But, frankly speaking, I never liked fish as a child and am still not a big fan of seafood. But, like how I told you about the tea episode, this is another area that I had to take up as a challenge in perfecting 'coz my husband just couldn't do without fish for lunch. Things have changed quite a bit now though. We're more of vegetarians of late. But, over the years, I've experimented on a variety of fish dishes and learnt a lot from my mother and my mother-in-law as well. Today, I can confidently say, that I make very good authentic nadan Fish curries :)

This Fish curry, also known as Mulaku curry is best made with sardines originally. But, I can't stand the odour of it and I usually stick onto big fishes or less stinky small fishes like anchovies, pomfrets etc and occasionally fresh water fish like green-chromide or pearl spot for my cooking. We'll make this fish curry with King Fish and that's the only fish I like ;)

Ingredients :

King Fish (or any fish of your choice)

1/2 kg
Coconut oil

2-3 tablespoons
Shallots (sliced)

9-10 medium
Ginger (crushed)

2 inch piece
Garlic (crushed)

6 large cloves
Green chilli

2 nos. (or as you prefer)
Asafoetida powder

1/4 teaspoon
Curry leaves

2-3 stems

2 medium
Dried Kokum or Garcinia indica

3-4 medium
Turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon
Chilli Powder

2 teaspoons
Coriander powder

2 and 1/2 teaspoons
Fennel seed powder

1/3 teaspoon
Crushed black pepper

1/2 teaspoon or more
Fenugreek seeds

1/2 teaspoon

1 and 1/2 cups

To taste.

In different regions of Kerala they prepare the same Mulaku Fish curry differently. In North Kerala, dried tamarinds are used instead of kokum. Some do not use coriander powder. Some skip shallots. Well, my mother is from Kottayam and kottayam fish curry, especially made my Christians in the region, is the most renowned fish curry in Kerala, prepared a day ahead and left in the same clay pot overnight. Well, this may not be exactly like that, but, it sure has a Kottayam influence. Oh yes, another important tip, for best results, always use, clay pots to make Kerala fish curry. More mature the clay pot, the better.

Preparation Method :

Clean and wash the fish. Keralites usually wash fish thoroughly with salt, some others also use lemon,  rice flour etc. But, after seeing the Chinese cook fish straight from water tanks without much of cleaning, I too do not waste my energy cleaning fish with all the pain. Anyway, please follow your heart's content, and do as you please :)
Preferably in a clay pot (if you don't have one, it's ok, a non-stick sauce pan will also be fine or a castor-iron pot would be great.), heat the coconut oil, and slightly brown the fenugreek seeds.

Throw in the crushed garlic and ginger and sauté well until the raw smell of them disappear.

Into it add the sliced shallots and slit green chillies and sauté.

Throw in some curry leaves and salt and sauté until shallots turn golden brown.

Then add the powdered spices and combine well.

Gather the masala to a side, pour in a tiny bit of coconut oil and sprinkle in some asafoetida powder. Then, combine everything well. 

When the masala reaches the verge of burning (yes, I mean it, that's the key to a good fish curry) Add the diced tomatoes and some more curry leaves and combine well.

Keep cooking until the tomatoes are fully cooked and it mashes well and the oil in the gravy begins to clear. Then pour in some lukewarm water. Never pour cold water to hot clay pot, you'll end up cracking it's base.

Combine, allow to boil and allow the gravy to slightly thicken. Then add the kokum (before using kokum, make sure you soak dried kokum in lukewarm water for about 5-10 minutes and then thoroughly wash it and tear it into strips). Then add the washed fish pieces.

Allow the gravy to come to a complete boil. Never stir the curry after adding the fish. Just swirl the pot gently, only to settle the fish pieces into the gravy. Allow to cook on medium heat for another 7-8 minutes. Then add some more curry leaves and then drizzle some coconut oil on top and turn off the flame.

Like I said earlier, if this curry is prepared a day in advance, it will taste superb the next day. Make sure you do not touch it or use any spoon to stir it. Leave it as it is.

Best served with kappa puzhukku (tapioca) and also good to go with rice. I've tried this curry with Appam, Dosa, Puttu.. and it works well with just about anything.

Do not forget to leave your valuable feedback, results, comments, queries, suggestions or criticisms below!