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!!!!!
- 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
- ½ tbsp fennel seeds/Perinjeerakam
- ½ - ¾ tsp black peppercorns
- 1 flat cinnamon stick( 1” inch length)
- 1 cardamom
- 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).
Other stewed varieties from this blog:
Other seafood dishes from this blog: