Spicy Baked Fish in banana leaves (Meen Pollichathu)

Fish roasted in banana leaves is a specialty of Kerala cuisine and if you have ever taken a houseboat tour in the backwaters of Kerala you would have most certainly been offered this culinary treat! Traditionally, ‘Kari meenu’ or pearl spot fish is used for this where an entire fish is marinated in spices, coated with a masala of fried onions with ginger garlic and other spices, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted (over a pan usually). It tastes heavenly and I must say that ‘Pearl spot’ fish is really the best for this as the naturally sweet and salty flavor of the fish combined with the flavors of coconut oil and banana leaves makes this an irresistible dish anytime of the day!

Since we do not get Kari Menu (Pearl Spot)fish here in the US, I use whole Mackerel to make a similar dish using frozen banana leaves from the Chinese supermarket. Although the end result is not as great as the traditional one, it is quite close. Plus what an unusual presentation – Try making this for your special guests sometime and you are bound to impress!

Extra virgin coconut oil and fresh curry leaves are an absolute must for this dish! This method of first pan frying the fish and then baking it results in a fish that is crispy fried on the outside and moist and flaky on the inside. Absolutely delicious! Enjoy!

Spicy Baked Fish in banana leaves (Meen Pollichathu)
Author: 
Recipe type: Main course
Cuisine: Kerala, Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Whole Mackerel lightly pan fried and then coated with an onion and spice mixture and baked wrapped in banana leaves resulting in a fish that is crispy fried outside and moist and flaky on the inside
Ingredients
  • 4 Whole Mackerel or any other fish (cleaned from inside, you can retain head or cut it off)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil for frying
For the marinade:
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp red chili (cayenne pepper)
  • 1 tsp coconut oil (melted)
for the onion masala:
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • one 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped fine
  • 1 green chili, slit length wise
  • 6-8 fresh curry leaves
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp red chilli (cayenne pepper)
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala(optional)
  • 1 small piece of kodampuli/kokum soaked in ¼ cup warm water (optional)
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 fresh or frozen(thawed) banana leaves, washed and wiped dry
Instructions
  1. Clean the fish and make cuts on it horizontally with a knife so that the marinade can creep inside.
  2. Mix all the ingredients listed under marinade in a small bowl and coat each fish with the marinade paste lightly.
  3. Heat a frying pan with coconut oil. When hot add the marinated fish and cook on medium to high heat for about 2 minutes on each side so as to get a crispy skin(Do not overcook). Keep the fried fish aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 deg F (or 200 deg C)
  5. In the same frying pan, add the rest of the coconut oil and heat. When hot, add the sliced onions and sauce for about 2-3 minutes until they begin to soften.
  6. Add the garlic, ginger, the green chili and curry leaves. Saute for another 2-3 minutes.
  7. Next add all the spice powders and sauce for another minute.
  8. Add the kodampuli with the water (if adding or just add plain water) and the vinegar and cover and cook for about 2 minutes until you see the oil separating off. Turn heat off.
  9. Take each banana leaf and cut in half so you have 4 pieces.
  10. Place a fish inside the center of each piece and place some of the onion and spice mixture over it to cover it. Wrap the leaf edges to form a packet (you can use a string or toothpicks to make parcels)
  11. Place all the parcels on a baking tray and bake in the oven at 400 deg f (200 deg c) for 20 minutes.
  12. Serve warm right out of the oven. Garnish with red onions and lime wedges!
Notes
Kokum/Kodampuli is optional - it gives an additional tangy flavor to the dish but vinegar alone is sufficient too.
For AIP version, skip cayenne, coriander and garam masala.

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