Monday, January 18, 2016

Grape Leaf Stuffed Pan Baked Fish - Pearlspot/Karimeen - കരിമീൻ പൊള്ളിച്ചത്

Hope 2016 is going well for everyone. Jan 16th marked the 8th year anniversary of this blog and as always I am appreciative of this space that keeps me from losing myself in the daily rush of our lives. And thanks to soul searching days and reflections earlier for checking in here once in a while  and leaving sweet comments which gives me the feeling that the posts are being read. Not forgetting you geets for your loving comments.

I had prepared a draft of this post in November but didn't have a chance to publish it. So now is a good time as any. We all go into a festive mode when we hear that Haunt is visiting. Every year she comes for grandparents day at the school. She takes days off from her busy work as a pediatrician and flies from the East to be with us. I am appreciative of the love that makes this possible. As the day of her visit gets closer, kids start chanting "she is coming" every other minute. I look to her as a friend and guide and since she is about the same age as some of my sisters, I have come to regard her more as a sister than an aunt. She is the youngest of my Hmom's sisters. Having lived here now for the longest time, sometimes I feel we understand each other's lives better. She is also a great cook in the same tradition as my Hmom. Haunt fills her home with great tasting food whenever we visit her and it always gives a feeling of warmth and love. I wanted to make something extra-special this time for her visit and we had fresh-frozen karimeen from the Indian store waiting for the perfect outing.

I thawed the karimeen overnight in the fridge and took them out only about half an hour before cooking started. The quality of the fish was as good as I have come to expect from Double Horse products based on my Hmom's recommendations.

Maria's Menu is a very dependable source for recipes that can be reproduced easily. The fish pollichathu recipe I found there was easy to adapt and came out really well. I scaled the recipe up 4 times to account for the quantity of fish I had. I also used grape leaves and aluminum foil to bake the fish as I had no recourse to get the banana leaves that tradition demanded. Nothing, I repeat, nothing, can take away from the extraordinary taste of this very traditional Kerala dish. Not having grown up in Kuttanad and being nowhere close to where the fish is normally available, our home had rarely seen this fish. When we do, it was fried to perfection with unanimous agreement and devoured in no time. Any other version had to wait till we can move past the fried goodness stage and for this fish that never came. So I was surprised at the heavenly explosion of flavors in my mouth with the fish cooked this way and am hooked for life. We all are!

In The Mix

karimeen - 6 (cleaned, and head removed ~900 grams)
canola oil - 4-6 tbsp - to pre-fry the fish

shallots - 16 medium sized sliced
crushed chopped ginger - 8 tsp
crushed chopped garlic - 10 tsp
serano chili - 4 thinly sliced sideways
kashmiri chili powder - 8 tsp
coriander powder - 10 tsp
tomato - 3 medium diced
coconut milk - 1/2 can diluted with 1/2 can of water
salt - to taste
curry leave - 1-2 sprigs
coconut oil - 2-3 tbsp

to marinate 
turmeric powder - 1 tsp
pepper powder - 1 tsp (always use freshly pestled pepper for that extra punch)
salt to taste

to wrap
any one of the below choices are good:
banana leaves 
aluminum foil sized to wrap 1 fish 
grape leaves - 2 large per fish, slightly wilted on hot pan (tender leaves if available are better)
kitchen twain dampened with water cut to desired length - to tie  the fish when using the leaves to wrap.

How To Do

Take the fish and score with a knife 2-3 times at an angle on both sides. Mix with turmeric powder, pepper powder, salt and set to marinate for about 30 minutes on the counter top. 

Heat the canola oil and fry the marinated fish on both sides to a bit more than half done. About 2-3 minutes on each side will do. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a pan and add sliced shallots. Saute to golden brown and add ginger, garlic and green chili.  fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining curry powders and mix well. After 3-4 minutes add some hot water so the gravy combines well together. Add chopped tomato and curry leaves and mix well. Check and add salt as needed. Add another 2-3 tbsp of hot water for the tomato to soften. 

Add the diluted coconut milk and mix all together. Cook till the masala thickens. I had prepared all else and was busy finishing this last dish when Haunt came in since her flight had arrived early. So from this point on I followed her suggestions. The gravy has to cover the fish and be wrapped and baked. So the consistency should not be too thick lest it dries up but not runny either.

I had prepared and cut the aluminum foil but Haunt knew of our grapes in the backyard and she had this great suggestion that I use the grape leaves instead. We gathered up some large leaves really quickly. Since the season was almost over, the leaves were on their way to being fall fodder but we still had a good few standing. Haunt said tender leaves are better as they can better withstand the hot pan.  

After cleaning the leaves I wilted them gently on a hot pan. We needed two leaves to fully cover one fish. Put some of the gravy on one leaf and place the fish on top. Then cover up with more gravy. Wrap the fish as much as you can and then use another leaf to fully cover the gravy and fish. Tie all together with the kitchen twain. Some were wrapped in foil to hedge the bets:-)

The pan must be hot and ready by now. Place the wrapped fish in the pan and bake on each side for about 3-4 minutes. Because the leaves were older, they started to brown by the end but still held their own ground. Now you are ready to taste the most delectable dish prepared out of heavenly Kerala's state fish which it seems is also called green chromide. I rather like karimeen or pearlspot myself. 

When the dish was done we all sat down to eat. From the moment the wrap was opened till the wrap was cast aside there was an enjoyable silence and all plates were picked clean. The kids had to remove the gravy and just eat the fish, but they too enjoyed the masala crusted goodness with no usual complaints about bones being present. This remains a very delicious memory sweetened by Haunt's presence. I can't wait to get my hands on another batch of karimeen before the grape leaves bid their final adieu.