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POLLICHATHU FISH IN BANANA LEAVESOne of the most popular dishes among the fishing communities of Kerala is karimeen pollichathu. You can see the karimeen fish, known in English as pearl spot, in the photo opposite. It is common in Lake Ashtamudi and is considered a delicacy in India, but you can use any medium-sized whole fish, such as red mullet or whiting. The secret is to rub the marinade all over each fish and then wrap each one in a banana leaf with the masala spice mixture. The banana leaves protect the fish while they are being cooked and also add a nice fresh flavour. Searing the leaves briefly first makes them more flexible and easier to wrap around the fish, as well as improving the taste.

  • Yield: 4 Servings
  • Total Time: 35 Minutes


  • 1 tbsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 4 × 300–400-g/10–14-oz whole round fish, such as mullet
  • coconut oil for frying
  • salt
  • 3 -cm/1¼-inch piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely
  • chopped
  • 125 ml/4 fl oz/8 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 4 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp finely chopped green chillies (chiles)
  • handful of fresh or frozen curry leaves
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 6 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 6 tbsp coconut milk
  • 4 banana leaves, each large enough to enclose a fish
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 lime, sliced
How to Make It
  1. To make the marinade, in a bowl, mix together the chilli powder, ground turmeric, lemon juice and salt to taste. Stir in 1 tablespoon of cold water.
  2. To prepare the fish, clean the fish (see here). With a sharp knife, make cuts 1.5 cm/⅔ inch apart into the flesh on each side and, wearing thin, plastic gloves, rub the marinade all over the fish.
  3. Heat a little coconut oil in a frying pan (skillet) over a high heat and fry the fish for 4–6 minutes on each side until browned. Drain from the pan and set aside. If using the same pan to make the masala, wash and dry it.
  4. To make the masala, put the ginger, coconut oil, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, garlic, green chillies (chiles), curry leaves and chopped onions in a frying pan and fry for 2 minutes. Add the chilli powder, ground turmeric and tomatoes and season with salt. Cook for 10– 15 minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the coconut milk and cook for a further 1–2 minutes.
  5. To assemble the parcels, hold one side of each banana leaf over a gas flame (or use a chef’s blow torch) for a few seconds to soften it. Divide half of the masala between the four leaves, place the fish on top and, reserving 1 tablespoon,
  6. spread the rest of the masala over the fish. Fold the banana leaves around the fish to make four parcels, tying them up securely with thin string. Fry the parcels in a dry frying pan for 2 minutes on each side over a medium-high heat.
  7. Cook the sliced onion and tomatoes for 2 minutes in a pan with the reserved tablespoon of masala.
  8. Open the banana leaves and serve the fish immediately with the onion and tomato mixture spooned on top. Top each with a slice of lime.

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