There are a fair few dishes that I go back to often, which are not necessarily comfort food. The best of them has to be the Meen Pollichathu, made by my grandmother Ammini. Ammuma (grandmother) was a great cook, and her food always brought people together and made them happy. I suppose I have inherited some of her genes. She used to collect recipes from Malayalam magazines and newspapers, and over the years, ammuma, who passed away a couple of years ago, had many bound volumes of recipes. Those are currently with me.
She was stubbornly old-school — she wanted me to be a doctor, or engineer rather than a chef — but she was always looking to innovate and learn new things when it came to food. I often cooked for her, mostly continental food, after I finished my studies, and she embraced every new dish even as she critiqued it. Meen Pollichathu is made in Kerala with karimeen (pearl spot), but out here at The Bombay Canteen, I use red snapper, and that’s because karimeen is not usually available fresh in Mumbai. Meen Pollichathu is among the most popular dishes on our menu. Even today, when I check the marinade for flavour, I close my eyes and see if corresponds to the taste that lingers in my memory.
The writer is executive chef, The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai
Meen Pollichathu (Banana Leaf Wrapped Red Snapper)
No. of Portions : 3
450gm boneless fish
For the masala(150gm/portion)
3 tbsp. coconut oil
3 cup onions, sliced
3 cup tomatoes, sliced
3 tsp. garlic paste
6 tsp. ginger paste
3 tsp. green chilli, chopped
6 tbsp. curry leaves
1½ tsp. chilli powder
¾ tsp. turmeric powder
¾ tsp. black pepper powder
1½ tsp. coriander powder
¾ cup coconut milk
6 tsp. lemon juice
to taste sugar
to taste salt
1. Bloom the curry leaves in the coconut oil.
2. Add the sliced onions and cook till translucent, add the ginger and garlic paste.
3. Cook it out for a few minutes.
4. Add fresh green chillies, chilli powder, turmeric powder, black pepper powder, garam masala powder and coriander powder.
5. After cooking the spices for a few minutes add the sliced tomatoes.
6. Add the coconut milk and let the flavours infuse.
7. Season with sugar and salt.
8. Finish with lemon juice.
9. Bring this mixture to room temperature and puree into a fine paste.
10. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Marinate each fillet of fish in about 1 cup of the masala and place it on the banana leaf. Spoon some more masala on top and wrap the banana leaf tightly.
11. Heat a tawa or flat pan, add a little oil and place the banana leaf wrapped fish. Cook on medium heat for about 10-12 minutes turning the fish over every 2 -3 mintues till cooked.