This spicy fish curry has become the culinary trademark of the Travancore region though it is proudly referred to as Kottayam fish curry to the outside world. There are 2 main differences that makes this dish stand out from all other seafood preparations of Kerala – use of black kokum as the souring agent instead of tamarind and absence of coconut (no one needs an explanation about Kerala’s fixation with coconut). There are households which add fried strips of coconut to garnish this dish but coconut as such, is not an ingredient which contributes to the flavour of this fish curry.
And the best way to eat this is with boiled tapioca – the soothing creamy texture works well with the fiery spiciness of the curry. But it is as delicious when paired with steamed rice and mor kachiyathu (spiced buttermilk curry).
1. 1kg barracuda, medium sized pieces
2. 7-8 shallots/small onion, finely sliced
3. 1 inch ginger, finely chopped
4. 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
5. 1 ½ tbsp red chilli powder (adjust to heat preferences)
6. 1 ½ tbsp kashmiri chilli powder (adjust to heat preferences)
7. ½ tsp turmeric powder
8. 4-5 sprigs curry leaves
9. ½ tsp mustard seeds
10. ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
11. 2 pieces of black kokum/kudampuli
12. Salt, to season
13. 3-4 tbsp coconut oil.
Note – To get the red hot colour to the dish without being super spicy, I used a mix of red chilli and Kashmiri red chilli powder.
This fish curry is traditionally made in an earthen pot which lends a unique flavour to the dish. If you do not have one, a regular kadai or pan can be used.
1. Clean the fish and cut into small pieces and keep aside.
2. Heat oil, crackle mustard seeds and then add fenugreek seeds and curry leaves. Next add chopped shallots, ginger and garlic and sauté till the onions turn light golden brown.
3. Make a paste with red chilli powder, kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric powder and add to the above and sauté again till the oil clears.
4. Add1 cup water and then put in the kokum pieces and salt and bring to boil.
5. Add the fish pieces and cook till done. Stir in between and add more water if necessary.
6. Garnish with curry leaves.