If there is one thing that Mr. KB would have, again and again without getting sick of it, it is the Spicy fish curry. When I am about to serve lunch, he would ask,"What's the curry?" and when I name the usual vegetable curries I prepare, he would show a "Well, bring it on. I don't mind" kind of attitude. No particular interests nor any exuberant joy. But when it is the fish curry, I see a quaint twinkle in his eyes and a sense of decadent zeal.
Mr. KB is a man of inhibitions, unlike me who goes really weak on the knees in front of delicious food. He never fly over the top, even if he is enjoying his favourite food. So it was unlike him to pour curry into his plate and lick it with fingers even after he had done with the rice; which is what happened the other day when I prepared the fish curry."Great! Great! So much for inhibitions" I thought. Anyway it is amusing to see that you can bring out the 'barbarism' in people with your food sometimes.
I used gamboge (Kudampuli) in this fish curry. Gamboge is rarely used in fish curries in the northern Kerala side, but in the south, it is very common. So I have a suspicion that this is a Southern Kerala fish curry though my mom makes it often, the source from which she got the recipe is unknown to me. Another speciality is the addition of thick coconut milk which mellows the fierceful flavour to some extend. In my mom's words,"The quality of the coconut milk determines the taste of the curry". So go for very thick and undiluted coconut milk for better results.
And of course, the clay pot; which is inevitable for that great flavour. There is more than just flavour to using an earthen pot. The acidity of the gamboge or tamarind which is almost always used in Kerala fish curries may react with the vessel in which the curry is prepared and stored if a metal pot is used. Cooking it in a clay pot (earthen pot) helps to avoid this situation, thus making it more healthier. That must be the reason why fish curry in Kerala is inevitably prepared in clay pots. I am so obsessed with my clay pot, which my mom send from Kerala a few years back, that I would trade anything for it. If you are a more fierce fully spice tolerant kind of person, try my 'fish curry without coconut milk' (meen mulakittathu) which I posted earlier.
Fish curry with Coconut milk:
1/2 kg fresh pomfret or any other fish with thick flesh, cut into pieces
8 to 10 shallots, sliced
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
a small piece of ginger, sliced into thin pieces
1/2 tsp of turmeric powder
2-3 tbsp of red chilli powder/ kashmiri chilli powder if you are on the low spice level
2 tsp of coriander pdr
2 bells of gambooge or 'kudampuli'
1 1/2 cups of water
1 1/2cup of thick coconut milk
Salt to taste
1 tbsp veg.oil
1 tbsp of coconut oil
a sprig of curry leaves.
Heat an earthen pot and add vegetable oil. Add shallots, garlic and ginger when the oil is hot. Saute for a few minutes. Now add the turmeric powder, red chilli powder and coriander powder and saute in low heat for a few minutes. Add water to this and increase the heat. When it comes to a boil, add salt and gamboge. Then add the fish slices and cook covered in medium heat for ten minutes or until done. When the fish is well cooked, add the coconut milk. When the mixture starts to boil, remove from heat and pour coconut oil on top. Garnish with curry leaves and serve hot. It goes well with rice, appam, puttu and parottas.
This post also goes to the Kerala Kitchen Event created by Ria and Rose of The Kerala Kitchen, being hosted by Jehanne of the cookingdoctor.