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  • Pan-Roasted Fish Masala – A twist on a classic Kerala dish

    Posted on | April 9, 2007 | 32 Comments |

    One of my favorite fish preparations from back home is Karimeen Pollichathu- Karimeen (Pearl Spot, a type of fish found in the back waters of Kerala) along with spices wrapped in Banana leaves and baked to perfection. The best authentic form of Karimeen Pollichathu is available at the Toddy Shops in central Kerala. Yes, my parents used to take us to Toddy shops, but not the kind that you are thinking of (if you have ever heard about the streetside kallu shaapu in Kerala) ! No, these are family friendly classy restaurants that serve authentic “Naadan”(traditional) fare like Kappa Vevichadu, Appams, Konchu Varthathu, Naadan Meen curry, Frog leg fry etc. along with fresh toddy (Kallu) . We used to even get a little taste of the toddy once in a while!

    If you ever visit Kerala, you won’t miss Kumarakam, the land of backwaters, the favorite tourist destination of Indians and foreigners alike. Kumarakam was voted as one of the top ten tourist destinations in the world! While in Kumarakam, you would definitely rent a houseboat for your backwater tours. These houseboats have all the comforts of a hotel and normally come with a personal chef who would catch fresh fish from the Vembanadu lake and would cook it the way you like right there in front of you, it can’t get any fresher than that! The boat would also take you to the restaurants and toddy shops along the shores where they serve fresh caught seafood cooked in authentic Kerala style. Make sure you order Karimeen Pollichathu, and Konchu Fry (Lobster Fry) along with some fresh toddy. Yummy!

    Okay, before I get sidetracked too much, let me get into the recipe of the day. Since I don’t get Karimeen here, and banana leaves are hard to find,  I normally make Fish Pollichathu using Tilapia and use Aluminum foil for wrapping the fish, and it turns out really good. But this time around, I decided to skip the wrapping and baking completely and do the entire cooking stove-top, I can’t call this fish Pollichathu, but the result was so yummy and the process is much easier. It uses the same ingredients as the Fish Pollichathu, I just altered the last step in the process.

    (Click on the image for a more detailed view)


    • 1 whole fresh Tilapia, cleaned well
    • 1 tsp black pepper powder
    • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
    • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
    • 1 tbsp coriander powder
    • 2 green chilies thinly sliced
    • 1/2 tbsp grated ginger
    • 1 tbsp minced garlic
    • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots
    • 1 cup coconut milk
    • 1 bunch curry leaves
    • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
    • salt for taste
    • Oil for frying


    1. Make gashes on both sides of the fish. Rub the fish with a mixture of 1/2 tsp pepper powder, 1/4 tsp turmeric powder and salt and let it marinate for 30 minutes.
    2. Mix a little water with the red chili powder, coriander powder, reminder of the turmeric and pepper powders to make a thick paste.
    3. In a frying pan large enough to hold the fish,  heat 1 tbsp of oil. Saute the shallots, ginger, garlic, green chilies and curry leaves till the shallots just start to brown. Remove from the pan and keep aside.
    4. In the same pan, add a little more oil if needed, and fry the fish lightly on both sides and remove from the pan.
    5. Add 1 tsp oil and splutter mustard seeds in the same pan. Add the spice paste and reduce the heat to low. Fry the spice paste till the spices are cooked well and fragrant.
    6. Increase the heat to medium and add the lightly fried fish and coconut milk to the pan. Mix well, turning the fish to make sure the fish is well coated with the coconut milk + spice mixture. Add sauteed shallots, ginger, garlic, chilly and curry leaves to the pan and mix well by turning the fish, again making sure that the fish is well coated.
    7. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for a while till most of the gravy is gone, turning the fish once during the process.
    8. Once most of the liquid is gone, increase the heat and fry the fish till the gravy is completely absorbed and the spices are sticking well to the fish, turn the fish once during this process too to fry both sides well.  

    If you decide to bake the fish in banana leaves, there are only slight changes to the process. Follow the recipe till step 5. in step 6, do not add the fish to the pan. Add the coconut milk and the sauteed shallots mix and simmer for a while. Half way through the simmering process, when half the liquid is gone, add the fish and cook for just 2 minutes on high till some more gravy is absorbed by the fish.

    Wrap the fish and the spices along with the gravy in banana leaves and tie to secure. Bake in the oven at 350F for 15 minutes. The trick is to make sure that the fish is only half cooked before putting in the oven, otherwise the fish will break apart after the baking process.

    Check out Shn’s authentic fish Pollichathu in Banana leaves recipe here: Grandma’s Meen Pollichathu – Fish in Banana leaf wraps – A Central Kerala Delicacy.

    Since I talked about Kerala and Kumarakam at the starting of the post, thought I will share some pictures from my last trip to Kumarakam in 2004.

    Here is a picture of the best konchu varuthathu (lobster fry) I’ve ever had, prepared in typical Kerala style in a Toddy Shop along the shores of Vembanadu lake in Kumarakam.  These suckers were spicy!!!

    The best lobster I have ever had.

    This is the houseboat I was talking about before, with all the comforts of a good hotel with fully furnished bedroom, toilet, cozy living room, kitchen and dining area. You can rent this for the night, along with a personal chef!


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    Category: Good with Drinks, India - Kerala, Mains, Recipes, Seafood

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    32 Responses to “Pan-Roasted Fish Masala – A twist on a classic Kerala dish”

    1. Gini
      April 9th, 2007 @ 11:54 pm

      Oh Man! That lobster looks soo good. I am hitting the backwaters this time , you have convinced me.

    2. Pravs
      April 10th, 2007 @ 12:34 am

      Oh sig, you are killing me now… gosh i am dying to taste that tilapia and the lobsters!! Great shot of the tilapia.

    3. Mishmash !
      April 10th, 2007 @ 12:42 am

      Girl that konchu varutharachathu is so tantalizing, I feel like going home now :( I was planning to put some pics of our backwaters trip too in my next week’s post.
      As for the fish recipe, again a glamorous roasted fish ;) Am sure it taste good too.


    4. Sandeepa
      April 10th, 2007 @ 2:48 am

      yeeeh, I have been to Kumarakam — beautiful place. We styaed at thekkady though and did a day trip to Kumarakam and took the ride along the canals

      Also had Meen Polichettu too but as I had told Mishmash earlier, I was not very used to the taste of Coconut Oil in cooking so couldn’t enjoy as much as I should

      Have you been to this place Karavalli in B’lore, they also served very good Kerala cuisine but again the coconut oil did it for me. Maybe if I had stayed longer I would have develoved a liking

    5. KitchenFairy
      April 10th, 2007 @ 4:21 am

      Wow!Every holidays we were planning to go to kumarakam,but never been there..After noyambe ,I am in such a great mood to cook something new..Haha I will mix urs with mishmash Oh! which fish I will select??hihi Aylaaaaaaaa.
      Dear ur Fish Masla is perfect makes my mouth watering..

    6. Reena
      April 10th, 2007 @ 5:53 am

      Sig, You are cruel. It is late at night and had a good dinner but still I am drooling all over my laptop. Why o why two scrumptious pictures? That Meen polichathu was enough and then you had to add Konchu fry too. Kumarakom is a fast growing tourist attraction but my only complaint is mosquitos:).

      Warn me before posting Kerala fish recipes. I will come with a plate of rice. :) ):)).

    7. Reena
      April 10th, 2007 @ 5:59 am

      btw sig, i make fish polichathu with tilapia too.

    8. Jyothsna
      April 10th, 2007 @ 6:23 am

      What a beautiful picture of that fish!! So tantalizing! The lobster pic is good but I certainly can’t stomach a lobster!!

    9. Sig
      April 10th, 2007 @ 7:13 am

      Gini, you haven’t been to Kumarakam? What kind of mallu are you? :D . Are you visiting India soon?

      Pravs, I’m just returning the favor :D

      Shn, can’t wait to see your next post with the backwater pictures, I love reading your posts.

      Sandeepa, Coconut Oil is really an acquired taste, I love it, but since Siv is not a fan, we don’t use it at home at all. I used olive oil for this. You can use any kind of oil.

      Karavalli was one of my favorites in Blore, I lived there for two years. There were a bunch of really good mallu restaurants there, I’m drooling just thinking about those. :)

      KitchenFairy Another mallu who hasn’t been to Kumarakam, shame.. :D

      Glad your noyambu is over, time to make up for all the lost time. Hope you had a great easter weekend!

      Reena ,:) I had to eat fish fry today after I seeing your pictures , so fried some Salmon for dinner following your recipe. It was yummy, thanks girl!

      I don’t like pomphret, love Tilapia, so that is what I use for any recipe that asks for Karimeen. You should post your version of Fish Pollichathu, everyone has a slightly different version.

      Jyothsna, hope you are not allergic to lobster, if you just don’t like the taste, this dish will fix that for sure, this was so spicy and yummy. :)

    10. Meeta
      April 10th, 2007 @ 8:34 am

      Yummy! What a recipe and what a sight. I think I need to get me some lunch. Sig, that is the most tantalizing fish recipe I have come across.

    11. Paddukoti
      April 10th, 2007 @ 9:05 am

      sig!!! how did u make that look so beautiful!!
      amazing pictures and amazing recipes!!!

    12. Nandita
      April 10th, 2007 @ 11:43 am

      Hey babes,
      fish eater or no, that picture HAD me clicking and be careful…next thing you know is that Kingfisher whacks it for one of their hoardings…Simple marvellous bit of photography!

    13. Asha
      April 10th, 2007 @ 12:27 pm

      OMG!! Look at that house boat and for rent too!I will be there one day:))Thanks for that photo Sig.It’s absolutely gorgeous:))Same goes to that fish,lying there smothered with spices!!Beautiful!!

    14. Richa
      April 10th, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

      hey sig,
      enjoyed your virtual kerala tour, hope to visit sometime!!
      You are churning out one recipe after another at such a fast rate, you sure are one enthusiastic cook!

    15. sunita
      April 10th, 2007 @ 2:22 pm

      Sig,I’ve heard so much about the backwaters of Kerala…maybe someday(sigh!!!a very long one at that)…the fish looks absolutely mouthwatering…

    16. bee
      April 10th, 2007 @ 2:31 pm

      gosh, gal, those are some seriously good pictures, and that’s some great grub. makes me miss my seafood days.

    17. Gini
      April 11th, 2007 @ 1:39 am

      Yo Sig, before you start questioning my Malayaliness let me clarify something- I HAVE BEEN to Kumarakom, but haven’t been on a house boat. Tough crowd this one :)

      Yeah, this May I am going for a short 3 weeks.

    18. Sig
      April 11th, 2007 @ 3:27 am

      Meeta, thanks sweety, its the first time someone’s using the adj “tantalizing” for one of my recipes :)

      Padmaja, thanks girl, I try, sometimes it comes out well, sometimes it doesn’t.. luckily a whole fish is a great subject for pictures :)

      Nandita, thanks cutie, I’m glad I got you to click ;)

      Asha, next time you visit India, do visit Kerala, I’m sure you’ll love it.

      Richa, I cook in batches :) . When I get into the mood, I am on a role, I click pics and keep it for later when I am actually in the mood to post and not in the mood to cook… Do visit Kumarakam when you get a chance, it is beautiful!

      Sunita, coming from Assam, it will be pretty hard to impress you with natural beauty, but I think you will like Kumarakam..

      Bee, thanks girl, you are my hero for giving up meat and seafood… :)

      Gini, lol, there is the malllu spirit :) … Have a great time back home, wish I could remember the name of the place where we had the lobster, but I think it should be there everywhere…

    19. Sia's Corner
      April 11th, 2007 @ 8:51 am

      oh WOW!!! my wow is for the boat house sig;)

    20. Sheela
      April 11th, 2007 @ 7:47 pm

      wow, sig, wow!

      D & I went to kerala a couple of years ago – just ernakulam/alappuzha… missed kumarakam – it is in our to-do list, though – will be sure to hit you up for pointers before we plan a trip there :)

      I don’t eat fish, but, your fotos make me want to try them badly! D like tilapia and i have only cooked salmon for him so far…

      thanks for the recipe and beautiful foto.

      p.s: nice to note that you do pretty much what I do – when I am in the mood I make about a dozen dishes and photograph them, and post when I feel like writing and have the time :)

    21. Sig
      April 11th, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

      Sia, are you insulting my cooking? :) … You know, fish is considered vegetarian in some cultures. :)

      Sheela, thanks… definitely I’d be happy to give you pointers, it is well worth a visit. :) .

      About cooking, isn’t it a pain to cook, make it look beautiful and take pictures? So I try to get it all done in one go… :) Only problem with the method is, after a while I hate the pictures I took and don’t feel like posting. :(

    22. musical
      April 12th, 2007 @ 1:42 am

      Sig, really your pictures are total delights! regardless of whether one eats sea-food or not. WOW! is the first thing i said :)

      I here people talking about Karavalli :) It was hugely popular with everyone. Sig, Sandeepa, i join you both in that nostalgia :)

      Ah……(goes back to ogle at the pictures again)

    23. Sheela
      April 12th, 2007 @ 1:42 am

      sig, you hit the nail on the head – it is tough to do it on weeknights especially; and then, the photos when i get to it seems ugh… and it doesn’t help when Big Baby D and Little Baby Ana are both trailing behind me in the kitchen repeating, “when can we eat?”, “is the food ready yet?” just at the moment when I want some space and quiet to take the brilliant pictures I imagine in my head!

    24. Sig
      April 12th, 2007 @ 6:47 am

      Sheela, your little ones sound just like Siv :) , now I give him a little bit before I take the pictures.

    25. Sig
      April 12th, 2007 @ 6:48 am

      Musical, so another Karavalli fan… :) . I liked coconut groove too, that was my other favorite mallu restaurant in bangalore.

    26. musical
      April 12th, 2007 @ 5:45 pm

      Coconut Grove…..ah! you are really making me miss Bangalore dear :) )

    27. shilpa
      April 12th, 2007 @ 9:52 pm

      Ohh god..that fish looks so tempting..great job Sig.

    28. Bharathy
      November 27th, 2007 @ 12:17 am

      :drool: ooowwaah I am here after a long while and got hooked in here…god!!!This is I have said in fantastic four meme…100%..kumarakom house boat.meen pollichathu coke :eek: …are you deliberately making me homesick and drool :drool:

      :) yeah kumarakom is the best… I am drooling too, just thinking about it ;)

    29. roopa
      February 19th, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

      ooooh thats soooo tasty looking , i wish it were just real instead of the virtual ones before my eyes:)

    30. Rita
      April 11th, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

      Hi Sig- that was great- btw- you can get banana leaves frozen at Central Market (in Shoreline or mill-creek) or at Uwajimaya if you can find it. I occasionally find it in the filipino stores as well or east-side mayuri etc. So if you are ever northbound of seattle on 15th Ave and NE 182nd area (North-city/Shoreline) there is an Indian Sweets store and a small filipino store with take-out food that is quite tasty- most of them have pork/beef/chicken which you might enjoy. I love it when the owner’s wife prepares the green jackfruit curry in coconut milk- so tasty- and its cheap!!!!

    31. Nami
      May 23rd, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

      Love your blog! I’ve been an infrequent visitor, especially for the chicken dishes. I’d eaten Karimeen Pollichettu during my trip to Kerala for the first time and loved it! Thanks for this recipe. I can’t wait to try it out this weekend.

      February 9th, 2013 @ 12:59 am

      fantastic post and an amazing illustration,Thank you for this post.Wonderful design and a wonderful display of colors and moods in the text.