Sunday, June 1, 2008

Fish Molee- Stewed fish in coconut milk flavored with exotic spices.

Fish Molee/Fish Molly!

No, it is not fish cooked by aunt molly, though my aunt Molly also makes this dish every now and then!

To my understanding, this stewed fish in rich silky coconut milk, flavored with fragrant fennel and pungent peppercorns, embellished with the tartness of tomato and vinegar, aroma of fresh curry leaves and coconut oil, has its culinary legacy woven intricately with Kerala’s rich socio-historic trail. Let me see if I can explain it in pure culinary terms. Start with Kerala’s long coastal belt, lined with coconut trees and abundance of fresh seafood……stir in the seafarers like Portuguese, French, Romans, Dutch, Phoenicians, Jews, Chinese, Arabs & British who came in search for Kerala’s spice bank full of black peppercorns, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric……blend in these traders’ culinary traditions …..simmer their imported exotic spices and herbs like fennel, fenugreek, cashews, green chillies and coriander with the plentiful native spices , fresh produce, coconut and seafood…..season it with a very tolerant, warm-hearted group of people…..and when you plate it, you get this exotic, unique, piquant Kerala Cuisine! I am not sure of the etymology of the word, Molee/Moilee here, but from what I have read, it sure has a culinary trail, leading to these traders and the legacy they left behind.

Fish Molee/Fish Moilee/Fish Molly is quite a refined dish in terms of its taste and texture that appeals equally to the local as well as western palate. I still remember the first time I cooked this dish …..I was a novice and as always, I collected my mother’s recipe and once I started cooking, I got perplexed seeing the simplicity of ingredients and wondered if my mother forgot to mention some spices. Heyyy!!! Moms get old and they forget things at times….dont they? :). So I brought in my culinary experience and added a couple teaspoons of coriander powder and finally it turned out something like a Fish Masala, with a totally different texture and consistency, which was exactly opposite to what I was used to, from my mother’s kitchen and I had my moment of truth, the next time I spoke to my mother, when she very sweetly told me.” You don’t have to use all the spices in your pantry whenever you make a dish…some dishes like Fish Molee tastes better when prepared with minimum spice mix” !!!!! Oh yeah….the day I realized, I need to really wait for decades to reach the level of culinary knowledge and experience my mother possesses!!!!!


For Marinating:
  • 4 medium slices of cleaned fish ( King fish, Seer fish, Spanish Mackerel, Pomfret)
  • Around ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ¼ - ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper powder
  • Salt to taste
For Spice Mix:
  • ½ tbsp fennel seeds/Perinjeerakam
  • ½ - ¾ tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 flat cinnamon stick( 1” inch length)
  • 1 cardamom
For Stewing:
  • 1 small size big onion, thinly sliced
  • 1tbsp ginger, thinly sliced
  • 4-6 Indian green chillies, slit opened lengthwise
  • 1 small size tomato, cut into thin rounds; reserve 3-4 rounds for the last phase of cooking
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ¾ cup thin coconut milk
  • ¼ cup thick coconut milk
  • 1 small sprig of curry leaves
  • ½ tsp plain vinegar
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil plus more for shallow frying the fish in the beginning
  • Grind the whole spices noted under spice mix to a fine powder and keep aside.
  • Make a paste with turmeric powder, pepper powder and salt, adding a tsp of water and apply it on the fish thoroughly and let it sit for 15 minutes.
  • Heat oil in a pan and lightly shallow fry the fish for a minute or two and keep aside; do not cook fully; this phase of the cooking is done mainly to make the fish pieces slightly firm and sometimes, to reduce the strong smell and also to enhance the taste of the fish.
  • Heat coconut oil preferably in a ‘curry –chatti’, an earthenware or in a pan, and sauté thinly sliced big onion, until they begin to look pale; add thinly sliced ginger and green chillies and cook till everything turn transparent. Now add ½ tsp turmeric powder and powdered spice mix and fry for a minute or two in low heat. Later, add the thin rounds of tomato (do reserve 3-4 rounds for the last phase of cooking) and gently stir to mix with other ingredients. Now pour thin coconut milk and salt and bring to a boil. At this stage gently slide in the lightly fried fish slices and cook covered, in medium heat. In between open the lid and slightly swirl the pan to make sure that fish pieces are fully covered in coconut milk and they do not stick to the pan. Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat and cook till fish is done. At this stage, add the thick coconut milk, blend well, adjust the salt, tear some curry leaves and add; let it cook in a low flame without the lid for around 5 minutes, till a light coating of oil appears on top; Now add the 3-4 reserved thin rounds of tomato and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until tomato slices are partly cooked. Sprinkle ½ tsp vinegar and turn off the stove and let the dish rest for 20-30 minutes.
  • Serve the fish pieces with gravy, topped with semi cooked thin rounds of tomato on each piece, with white bread or Palappam (laced pancakes) or chappathi (flat breads).
Note: Though I have asked to lightly shallow fry the fish before the actual cooking, it is optional as some in my family prefers the taste of fish cooked directly into the coconut milk and some like me, prefer to cook with lightly fried fish. Follow your personal taste here.

Other stewed varieties from this blog:

Beef StewPotato Stew Paalappam

Other seafood dishes from this blog:

Fish Curry - Central Kerala StylePepper Fish FryMeen PollichathuMashed Tapioca & Fish CurryChemmeen Vada - Kerala Style Prawn FrittersChemmeen Varattiyathu-Prawn RoastNjandu VarutharachathuChemmeen eerkiliyil kuthi varuthathu Njandu/Crab Roast

No part of the content ( articles, photographs, recipes) of this blog may be reproduced without my written permission.Copyright © 2007-2010 All rights reserved.


  1. "You don't have to use all the spices in your pantry whenever you make a dish" - I think that is the most important piece of culinary wisdom one can possess... :) It hasn't been that long since I started practicing it...
    Fish moilee looks delicious... my version is very similar.

  2. Looks delicious and very tempting...want to dig in rightnow though i had pretty full dinner...

  3. Shn, you hv explained so beautifully! tks for sharing (well frying fish slightly is new to me) And I m drooling at the beauty you have dished!! Loved the perfection n color of ur Fish Moulee!

  4. mmmm.. looks yum.. and surely tastes yum too :-)
    will tell mommy to try it out.. if not for me, then for daddy

  5. Shn, its been quite a while..why not so regular??..lovely looking bowl of fish..heard a lot abt this dish!..would love to try this out sometime..

  6. hey chech..the molee looks awesome...Yummy!!! Kudous to u!!

    Mummy will have a hard time with me :):)..each time i call up her and tell to make the dishes in ur blog :):):)

  7. Am I the first one today? Happy Monday to ya.
    Color and gravy of Fish Molee looks fabulous. I will use the masala for veg or chicken since we are not you know what? HeHe!
    We have booked a cabin in Gatlinburg for Summer vacay, will leave in mid July. Enjoy NO too!:))

  8. The fish molee looks yum, Shn! (I'm not a fish eater myself but I'll try that masala with veggies 0r chicken)

  9. GULP!!!!
    :D :D
    Ok, this weekend we're going to have another blast appo! Will try it out. I've experimented with fish moilee only once, some recipe from But that was DISASTROUS!! :D I'll tell you how this turns out

  10. good effort...

    waiting for thea palappam recipie


  11. I love fish molee, my mom used to make them back at home but then it was made for sundays or special occasions.

  12. Hi Shn

    Have been tryin to post my comment since quite some time now but some blogger error kept showing up.:(

    Though I am a vegetarian and cannot taste this dish but can still say that it must be delicious by the way it looks :))

  13. Hi
    Looks so delicious and yummy.
    I have to try your Fish Molee this weekend for sure !.
    Your Blog is awesome indeed.The Best!!!
    I am just learning to prepare kerala dishes and I am sure going to try all those culinary from your blog. I Love Kerala !
    Even the pictures looks so awesome.
    Keep it up. How do you do that :)?

  14. Hey :
    I like ur format where u have the picture first and then the story & recipe. I missed the opening picture. WHen I usually click the link the picture opens and wakes my senses. Then I scroll down for the story. And by time the time i reach the recipe I feel the tatse in my tongue

  15. Fish molee is a favourite of mine..My mom makes it really good!!..and I love to have it with chappati or just bread!!I used to have it in the kitchen and it will be embarassing if I tell here the number of chappatis i ll gobble up with it!! ;-P

    The photo looks absolutely lip smacking..I always used to find odd when I thought of making chicken curry without chicken masala after reading blogs..and found it absolutely true how critical the fact that you dont need to put all masalas in one dish!!

  16. Looks amazing, Shn! I have yet to try meen molee, but it's definitely on my to do list!! :)

  17. I am drooling over that picture ....will have to find some fish here...

  18. that looks hot and ready to sear my taste buds.yum yum..poor aunt molly.

  19. Sig,I have made lots of mandatharams like that......once she gave me a recipe for chicken kurma, with green chillies and i added chilly powder thinking that she probably forgot to mention that:D

    Mahe, thanks dear:) hows baby?

    Purnima, see if you like the taste of the fried fish instead of adding it direcly to the coconut milk....hope you enjoy the taste and the difference :)

    Emaan, hello cutiee.....:) let mommy and daddy enjoy this, I will make some baby food for you :)

    Srivalli, am i not regular? :) i took a break sometime back coz of job trasnfer but for last one month I ve been blogging...:) try out and let me know :)

    Sijo, mikkavarum ente blog adachu poottikkum alle :)))) where's the fotoms you promised?

    Asha, yeah...i know i know :) I have mailed u .. :)

    Vani, you may try my beef stew recipe for chicken is also a refined dish like this one :) btw, nice pic :)

    Mac, ooops....enne pedippikkalle...aarengilum ethenkilum try cheyyan pokunnu ennu paranja pinne bayankara tension aanu :) hey i will mail u the info you asked for!

    Anon, :) njan ethrayum pettennu ettolam....:)i had scribbled the approx measurements for it but cant locate now after the move...let me see.. if i get time i will prepare it this week and make a note of the measurements..:)

    Happy Cook, yeah like the red fish curryit is not a regular at our place too, :)

    Swati, so nice of you to come back and leave a message! :)yeah, i also faced the same problem with blogger this morning!

    Venu, thanks a lot for that heart warming and generous feedback...just made my day a bit brighter :) I love Kerala too and thats one of the motivations behind this blog....Hope you enjoy the recipes and taste too...all the best :)

    Mocha, you re so sweet dear :)I felt the picture was not decent enough to awaken anyone's senses...somehow I felt it doesnt do justice to the dish and hence thought of pushing it down a bit ;) ee pravashyam onnu kshamikkooo :)))

    Mathew, oh, come on....give us the number :))) I prefer chappathi too with this though I usually serve it along with white bread when we have guests....both re good combos.:)

    Kalai, thank you..try and let me know :)

    Shilpa, :) is it difficult to get fish at ur place?

    mallugirl, engottu varunno? :P


  20. "season it with a very tolerant, warm-hearted group of people"...ok can it very hungry, fish loving people instead ?
    Have heard a lot about this dish but yet to taste it, shall try it sometime with pomfret.
    The spices to me look plentiful, but I get the idea, how we have total faith on "corriander or cumin powder"

    I like the use of fennel in your dishes, gives a very different sweeter taste

  21. yummmmmmmmmm..this is my fav fish aunt makes it soooooo good..thinking abt it simply makes me drool...urs look really delcious.

  22. my gosh... I totally indulgent myself in your words... beautiful writing! I really want to try this dish, maybe this weekend!

  23. drooling over...Good work Mish...

  24. Hey Shn!!
    looks yummy...wil def try it out ..and let u knw...:)

  25. Start with Kerala’s long coastal belt, lined with coconut trees and abundance of fresh seafood……........

    mishy, how beautifully u have explained the essence of kerala food... just wonderful... i bow my head :)

  26. This fish recipe sounds great. I have never been to Kerala, but someday wish to go there.Nice blog with nice recipes

  27. I personally like dishes with very few spices in it, brings out the taste very well.

  28. Hi, I am newbie to your website. When i saw this recipe I knew I had to try it. I made it last week and it turned out awesome!! Thanks for such a mouth watering recipe ;) I will be trying out more of your recipes and will let you know how it turns out!

  29. I made this to bring to a potluck on Christmas eve. There were plenty of dishes, but mine(sorry your's) won the praises hands down!. Thank you.Don't have a bolg etc but my address is anverkurathotmaildotcom

  30. yummy stuff. good simple recipe.thank you. does anyone has the recipe for making vinegar, if so contact:saltan_worldking@yahoo. com,my. thanks

  31. i tried ur recipe for fish molee on saturday and it was a big hit though...i felt that it could have been better if my coconut milk had been more thick. i had tried fish molee from other recipes but none of them had been even close to this taste. i am sure i will try this out often. Thnks so much for a great recipe.

  32. One of the best blog... and the way you present is also awsome

  33. hi Shn...Your fish molly looks yummy.. am regular visitor to your blog...though havent commented on anythin yet......but today i must really thank u for this recipe... I had made fish molly as per ur recipe and it was really very tasty...I never like something which i prepare myself...But today i just loved it...

  34. Yummyyy Receipe... The best Fish Molly ever... Keep the good work...

  35. Delicious Really! I dont know ur name, but im a big time fan of ur cooking, anytime i wanna do something different out of my usual curries n stuff, ijus go mishmash, mishmash, mishmash on my computer! Keep the good work, waiting for more! :)


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