Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Curried Sardines in tomato base- Maththi/Chaala Thakkaali-yittu Pollichathu

NOTE: If you are looking for the popular Kerala’s signature version of the roasted fish wrapped in banana leaves, Meen Pollichathu, you may go directly to the recipe HERE.


One of our very dear friends mailed me sometime back, “ My friend here is all admiration for ur blog ;) Some recipes made her feel that you are a mallu christian, while some others like the vishu one gave her the Nair feel!

Well, that pretty much sums up my family’s culinary religion and the culinary traditions I have inherited from both my paternal as well as maternal side. In both these families, food was the language and taste was the religion…………. I grew up seeing women on both side pampering their family and friends with food. Food was the focal point….a guest was always treated with a hot glass of steaming beverages, Chaaya/kaappi accompanied by an array of freshly made plantain fritters, Pazhampori or steamed cakes like, Vattayappam or deep fried lentil fritters like, Sukhiyan along with other bakery items………aunts exchanged gossips while stirring a scrumptious uruli of Pradhaman…….. kids woke up to the delicate aroma of steamed coconut and rice flour cake, Puttu followed by the irresistible and formidable fragrance of the roasted coconut simmering in Kadala Curry, a delicacy with black chickpeas………………..lunch boxes were filled with my mother’s leafy thin Chappathi, a flat wheat bread and rolled with the spicy Beef Fry……..birthdays and anniversaries were celebrated with a huge Chembu of lip smacking Chicken Biryani……… on weekends we gorged on the tantalizing Potato stew, Esthtu and the lacy crepes, Paalappam……………. uncles played a round of Rummy or 28, over bottles of toddy and a plate of fish fry , with the freshly caught fish from the pond, Kulam in the backyard of our ancestral home ……………maids shared stories from the market and neighborhood grating mounts of coconut and de-skinning and de-boning a raw chicken caught from our own yard…….newly weds were treated with gourmet rice bread, Pathiri and erachi curry, curried meats……

I remember, long back, one of my cousins from the paternal side making a casual remark with a hint of sarcasm,“ ……ohh….those from our native has this habit of over treating /entertaining the guests even if they are complete strangers”. Well, now when I look back, I am proud to be part of such a large family……men and women who became part of our paternal family, from central and northern part of Kerala brought their tasty culinary traditions too. My maternal grandma, a city dweller, had close associations with her Christian neighbors… parents had some Muslim friends from whom my mother learned their tasty secrets. That made my mother’s kitchen a melting pot of various styles of Kerala cuisine. Inevitably the food she cooked and the food we enjoyed at home was a representation of ‘Kerala Food’ in general and me and my brother relished each morsel without realizing that the dish plated in front of us was associated with a particular community or religion some 40-50 years back and now I consider that ignorance a pure bliss as it gave us the ability to approach food with only one criteria, the taste!!

Though the religious/community trademarks were never a point of interest to me, what really confused me was the difference in regional variations when it comes to cooking and the names of many common dishes. My mother is still a virgin in this department but as I started interacting with people from other parts of Kerala and reading through the food blogs around, I realized the extent of variations in different regions for the same dish. For example, for me and for most Keralites, the term ‘Pollichathu’ is associated with a central Kerala delicacy called Meen Pollichathu which is roasted fish wrapped in banana leaves. Surprisingly, at my paternal home, the term has been associated with another fish preparation which is cooked in a base of sliced tomatoes and crushed small onions and then simmered in the sauce until the sauce thickens and an oil coating appears on top. As I delved more into this aspect of same lingo used for two different preparations, CJJ pointed out that at his place, they have a different style of Pollichathu which is pan roasted and served in a coarse base of sliced big onions, tomatoes and spices. Phew, talk about naming problems!!!!

Well, Maththi/Chaala Thakkaali-yittu Pollichathu is basically curried sardines in a crushed onion and tomato base. Tomato acts as the flavoring as well as the souring agent. This is a style of cooking I have inherited from my father’s side and I find it a pleasant change from our usual kudam puli/Gamboge flavored fish curries or the ones in ground coconut base. Here’s my or rather my mother's interpretation of the same:

  • 8 whole pieces of Sardines/Maththi/Chaala, cut and cleaned
  • 6-8 small red pearl onions/Kunjulli, peeled
  • 5 green chillies
  • 1 small piece of ginger (approx. 1” length), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large juicy tomato, thinly sliced
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 ½ to 3 tsp red chilly powder ( adjust according to individual tolerance)
  • ¾ to 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Crush the small red pearl onions/Kunjulli, ginger and green chillies, using a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle set, thinly slice each of these ingredients and spread it on a chopping board and crush with the round edge of the rolling pin or anything with which you can pound and get the same result.
  • Heat oil, preferably in a ‘curry-chatti’, an earthenware from Kerala or a cooking pan; when the oil is medium hot, throw in half of the curry leaves, snipped off of its stem, and smear the entire ‘curry chatti’/pan with oil and curry leaves, so as to coat the cooking ware fully with the combined flavour and aroma of the oil and curry leaves; DO NOT skip this step. Next, add the crushed small onions, ginger and green chilies, and sauté until transparent; add the thinly sliced juicy tomatoes and cook in low flame. When the tomato slices are soft, add turmeric powder and red chilly powder and combine well; let it cook for 1-2 minutes or until the raw smell goes, in low flame itself. At this stage, spread the fish pieces on this bed of tomato and onion base and pour water, suggested in the recipe or just enough to cover the fish pieces; add salt and bring to a boil in medium heat. Once the fish almost done, do a taste test and adjust the salt and then in low flame, simmer the gravy, in low heat until the sauce begins to thicken a bit and oil coating starts to float on top. This process takes about 15 minutes during which time fish will be cooked fully; so you need to roughly calculate the time ahead for cooking the fish, to make sure that fish is not over cooked. Just 2 minutes before turning off the heat, tear of the rest of the curry leaves, take some oil in your palm and crush some curry leaves with oil and add it to the dish, which accentuates the aroma, flavour and ‘the look’ of the dish. Turn off the stove and let it cool.
  • Serve with rice or chappathi.
Note: Since we like to smear our rice with curry, I did not simmer it too much. Those who like a bit more thick texture can thicken a bit more.

Related Posts:

Chemmeen eerkiliyil kuthi varuthathu Chemmeen Vada - Kerala Style Prawn Fritters Chemmeen Varattiyathu-Prawn Roast Fish Curry - Central Kerala Style Pepper Fish Fry Meen Pollichathu Mashed Tapioca & Fish Curry Njandu Varutharachathu Sardine & Gooseberry Njandu/Crab Roast Fish Molee Prawns Stir Fry

See you all next week!


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  1. I am just sitting here in awe reading your post and seeing your amazing pictures! Whole kerala cuisine in a post I should say..

  2. That looks so tasty.Must try this one soon as I can get my hands on some decent maththi! Thanks for the recipe.My cooking is also a mish mash!! of several cuisines put together.This is what makes food interesting huh?

  3. Thatis so awesome and yummy looking Chaala Thakkaali-yittu Pollichathu. I am sure it must be so yummy to have it with steamed matta rice. Unfortunately I have never tasted or seen fresh chaala here in toronto. I have tried from various fresh fish shop here but so far never found one.well anyway, your blog is like a food bible to many of us. Very often I would refer for receipe preparation. keep it up good luck
    All the Best ! Tks :)

  4. Oh my god! another favo dish of mine ...hmmm..oveer some rice.....


  5. Lovely prelude. Yummy curry! reeaaaaaallly tempting pics!

  6. kure nalayi itha daily.. :)pinne pachapuliyude season aanu, very tasty with mathi.. ;)

  7. Ah..Shn that curry looks sooo delicious! Reg 'Overtreating complete strangers'- my mil told me that her mom used to keep the main door (mumbai flat!!!) open and all those visitors to top malayalees home wd b called here n given treats...making her queue up for 'rationed' grocery in mid 70's- mid 80's era - a pain! top it has all her relatives at a stone's u can imagine our stock! But yes..though I wont b able to entertain in her manner, all the same am VERY PROUD of this habit! (A veryyy long one here! :) )

  8. Just like my mom makes. It was a dish we had atleast once a week at home. They were cheap fish but delicious curry was made from it.
    Would love to have with plain rice.
    The thought make my lips smack :-)

  9. Just came back from lunch, but the pics makes me feel hungry again!!
    BTW this looks like Madras curry with all the richness of tomatoes and chilli powder

  10. wow..looks mouthwatering.oru kappal odikaam:))mathiyude taste onnu vere thanne.

  11. That looks and sounds so much like a fish curry we I'm sure it must taste great :-)

  12. Never tried this way..I think looks so rich...should be a welcome change from the usual puli itta meen curry....I have been making that quite frequently and non malayalees who drop by home are not able to handle the spiciness of that!!;-D

    Is this the same as what they call Thalassery meen curry..

  13. The maththi pollichathu looks really good. My mouth is watering looking at the sardines. The taste of the fresh fish caught in Kerala is so much better then the ones we get in the markets here.

    I enjoy reading your posts and your blog, your pictures and recipes bring me a lot of memories from our lives back home. I have an award waiting for you in my blog, please hop on and take it. :-)

  14. wow ...pic kandittu evide ivide irikkan pattunnilla mish .looks so tasty ..the pic is great as usual..
    nattil pokan thonnunnu...

  15. hmm. so this is what happened to the mathis from ur last visit to the malayalee shop!!

  16. U make any simple dish look awesome. Just read ur mathi pollichatu and already gave instructions to buy some mathi for tonight we are going to have Shn's yummy mathi curry. Ur blog rocks man.

    Luv Jisha

  17. I associate pollicheu to the previous one. Actually I was introduced to this dish bu my servant when I was in 5th grade. She was caterer and had Kai punyam. I still remember opening the banana leaf with a curiosity and thought " what is this". The taste never left my tongue. had so many versions of this but never tasted this. This is more like my take on Fish masala .

  18. shn,

    i am a regular reader of your blog..have tried many recipes and it was very good..kuttanadan ones were really hit :-))) different from my kottayam style..where do you buy mathi from? do you get fresh ones? or the frozen ones from indian store?


  19. Thats a very nice read. Even though Konkanis is a small community, we find there are lots of varieties for the same dishes.
    I haven't had sardines in a long time. I had seen them once at whole foods but next time I checked, they were not there. I want to try this dish sometime when I find them.

  20. Divya, such a sweet note!! thanks a lot :) Well, you got it right point was to show that my family cooked kerala food in general, without really pointing its religious affiliations which I find very silly :)

    Poornima, yeah you re right.....i think most kitchens are like that these days......hope you can find some decent batch soon and do let me know your feedback :)

    Venu, Great to know that my family's kitchen traditions are becoming a prt of your family too.....Thanks you very much for such a warm note! I think sardine is one variety of fish that u can find here in western world spanish and greek use this a lot ....check the frozen section of indian stores or some international may get lucky :)

    Rashmi, yeah ..thats how we had it :P

    Vij, thanks a lot :)

    Seena, once from a friend's house i tasted a fish curry with the dried version of this puli u mentioned...I was was sooo tasty.....and that sourness was so darn great!!! i think it is stronger than our kudam puli ...lucky u...enjaaayyy :)

    Purnimam , i have heard such stories about rural town in kerala but Mumbai....thats interesting !!!!! but one more thing is that those days, they had lot of maids our small nuclear set ups , especially in the western world, maids are a we have to really think twice about such large scale entertaining ...:)) thanks for shairng ur story...means a lot :)

    Happycook, u re right...those days this variety was avlble for 10-20 bucks.....mostly chaala and ayala was regulars at homes.......right? :)

    Pramod, :) though i was there for few years, i really havent tasted their local version except the chettinadu/karaikudi styles....and the meen kuzhambu i have tasted from other tamiliar friend's house, is different too..i think they add sambar tamarind and a good amount of coriander and cumin p/w too....

    Prajusha, heheh....athey ella keralites nu oru weakness aanu :))

    Sunita, thanks dear :)

    Mathew,yes u can give it a try, atlst for a change. To help your non-mallu friends, there is an alternative. Use a combination of regular chilly powder and Kashmiri chilly p/w or our naadan piriyan mulaku powder. the regular one gives heat and the latter gives colour, so that way u get the best of both the world. Ask amma to get a few packets of piriyan mulaku or kashmiri next time when u go home. And about the thalassery style, hehhe ...u re asking the wrong perosn...but a google search took me to
    this recipe. Hope that helps!

    Mycomfort food n/w, Thanks for letting me know your feedback...and i am honored to get that title from you :) Thanks a lot :)

    Veena, hahah.....but dont u get such varieties there?

    Mallugirl, it's time to make another trip :D

    Jisha, thank you :) so, how was it...did u like the curry?

    Pooja, the only logic i can think of such a common lingo is coz of common ground of crushed onion and tomato base sans coconut milk and banana leaf...perhaps, an easier route to it ..who knows!! :)) somehow I associate the term masala that has coriander powder with this base...u know something that has that light brown colour...may be i am strange :P

    Anjana, thanks for the feedback...pleasure to know that recipes worked well for you :) these are the frozen ones i got from a kerala store....these were exported from kerala, so it was tasty...but i have seen fresh ones in our previous i guess it is easier to spot this variety in some form or the other...all the best :)

    Shilpa, thank you dear :) buy it when u find these varieties as they dont bring it very regularly....and about the konkani dishes, oh myy ur blog was an eye opener to me...i never imagined it has such a huge culinary variety considering the size of the community....:)


  21. Hi, I am from Dallas, TX. I came here when I was 13 now married with 2 almost grown kids. You have an amazing talent for presentation and story telling. I made the shrimp yesterday and it came out great except it was way too hot for me and my hubby. My kids will not eat too much spicy food and they will not eat any kind of fish curries and I don't know what to do about that. I have to make an alternative mild chicken/beef/pork curry or casserole for them when I make any seafood curries. I found something called Breadfruit (forzen) in the Indian grocery store and don't know how to make the curry out it. Can you help? Even though I lived in Kerala for 13 years I don't ever remember seeing or hearing about a Breadfruit. If you know how to make them then please post the recipe or email me.

    Thank you,

  22. I am drooling like crazy over here, Shn! Those pics are mouthwateringly delicious. Your post rocks, too! :)

  23. I am preparing this for dinner tonight. Will let you know how it turns.

    Venu - Matthi is available at Royal Kerala foods in Scarborough. Check it out.

  24. Isn't it amazing how our diverse backgrounds inform who we are and what we eat. I thorough enjoyed this post.

  25. late here,drooling over the picture.....surely seems a must try variation.Usually,I don't buy mathi here or even if I buy,just fry it....eviduthe mathi kazhichal mathiyodulla ella ezhtavum poyalo...))))Ure snaps give an elegant look to even a simple dish...pongaruthu...thala mukalilidikkum...:P

  26. Looks yummy.... I have tried the same dish ( my friends mother made it once ) ..but it never looked this good...I think I have to go through all your recipes...:)

  27. Hi Shn,

    I accidentally came to your site a few weeks back. But now its addictive!!! I like your style of presentation and your blog take me to my childhood memories and the dishes my mom makes!!!Thanks Shn


  28. Hi mish ..
    yea da ..evide kittum ..but nammude nattil kittunna fish nde atrem taste varilla evide kittunna fish nu ..pinne amma yude kai undakkiyal parayenda karyam illa lloo.... :)
    there is a award waiting for u in my blog ..plz collect ur award by clicking the link

  29. As yummy looking as ever, am planning to try this soon, we make the usual puli meen curry and the thenga itte meen curry but never have tried this. And the part where youve written about people treating guests to a lot of food is SO true and so really nice, :)Food is one of the main topics of discussion here :D

  30. First time here. you have a wonderful blog! photos are fantastic..

  31. DMM, Thank you for sharing your story and dropping few lines here....pls feel free to adjust the spice level according to your family's home, we enjoy spicy food , so my recipes might be lil too spicy for some :)And, breadfruit is our sure u must have seen it in Kerala....unfortunately I dont get breadfruit in our store here....if I could get a packet, i will deft'ly blog a recipe with it....for the time being, you may check this recipe. If you are looking for some other recipe, pls feel free to drop me a mail, I will try to give you the directions but exact proportion would be tough since I dont get frozen breadfruit here!

    Kalai, thank you dear :)

    Anon, hope venu read your message :) Btw, did you try the dish?

    Cynthia, thank you so muchh :)

    Liz, ceiling nu pokkam undu, hehehh :)) but truly, i havent done anything to make it look appealing, just cooked, plated, pointed and clicked....i guess the dish is elegant on its own.....we liked it a lot....why dont you give it a try...nalla nei ulla mathi aanenkil, it wd be really good :)

    Confucius, i guess the crushed onions and juicy tomatoes do the magic...give it a try :)

    Nanditha, thanks a lot for such a lovely note....:) Hope you enjoy my future posts too :)

    Veena, thanks veena, it was very nice of you consider my humble space :) btw, when we re away from home, atlst these frozen ones are a bliss :)

    Vidya, it would be a nice change from the usual fare...btw, food being the centre of discussion is good...i have noticed lots of warmth and transparency in communication in such families....might sound strange, but thats something i have noticed :))

    Mahima, Thank you very much...a warm welcome here :)


  32. Hi Mishmash

    Yes, i did try the dish. We finished it in one sitting. You got the answer. Yup! damn good

  33. Anon, really happy to get such a great feedback :) thank you!

  34. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  35. Soumiya, Thank you very much...glad to know that measurements are working out for you...I understand your situation as I have been there :) Well, the yellow and white cake recipe I have blogged is the basic recipes i follow....but if you have never basked a cake, then I suggest you start with a cake mix the first time....Advantage is that it is fool proof and you only need to mix and bake....dont feel bad that u re using a box mix...i started like that and now when i look back, it did help me to have an idea about the consistency of the batter and texture et buy a cake mix of ur choice, white or yellow or chocolate from Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker...and then if u want, instead of vanilla essence and flavour it with orange or lemon zest and then follow the rest of the recipe in my blog for making fresh cream frosting.

    Am sure your husband would be appreciative fo the fact that u made a cake and put in all that effort....thats what matters in the end :) All the best...if you re confident go ahead and try white/yellow cake recipe from this blog :) Best wishes !

  36. Thanks Shn,for those suggestions..

    I guess I would buy a cake mix(let me see if i get the brands you mentioned here) today itself and try it so that I can try your cake recipe on his bday..:)Let me see if i feel confident enough!!

    I have 100% faith in your recipes as I have tried many of them..

    And one request..can u delete my email id from my previous comment?
    I dont want it to be published..


  37. Blogger Soumia said...

    Hi Shn,
    I am a gret fan of your blog,esp the way you write and the clear cut fashion of explaining recipes..Whenever I take recipe from someone,i ask them qty of each ingredients again and again.And many of them would say that they dont measure it accurately!!!So many a times i ended up making 'not so good' items though the parent recipes were excellent!!!
    You are an exception to them,thanks!!!

    Now,let me come to the main reason for writing to you..My hubby's bday is coming in another 2 weeks time..I wish to bake a cake for him..:) U know what..I have never baked a caked...So can u give me a simple delicious cake recipe with fresh cream topping and layers?I read your white cake recipe too,but felt its bit high-fi for baking toddlers like me..

    I went through many cake recipes in the net,but nothiing was convincing..
    HOpe you can help me with this..

    If u can pls mail it to or pls post it in your blog..

  38. hi shn!!
    have been away for some time and trsut me i wish missing ur blog..feeling so helppless that i want able to read it..
    and today when i saw 3 new posts since i last read, i was like so quickly finished reading them..
    yummy chala curry..both my mom and MIL makes it the same way!!

  39. Hi Shn,
    As you suggested I got one Betty Crockers and made a cake with half packet of it!!It came out pretty ok!I did beat the mix,oil and egg in beater..and was expecting it to bcome fluffy..but it didnt.Are u able to guess what went wrong?
    (When i poured the batter in the mould it was 2 inches..and it almost remained the same even after baking.)
    Is that the way its supposed to be?Or is there anything which I should follow while beating the batter?
    Please help..pleaseeeeeeeeee...bcoz i have decided to make your recipe for the BIG day..:)

  40. Usually the cake mixes rise quite well and cake is quite airy and fluffy. I cant figure out what went wrong...may be the temperature/heat in the oven was not enough...or the mix was an old packet or so...sorry, i dont have the expertise to really point out the cause....i dont think it's got something to do with even before getting beater, i used to make boxed cakes by using the palm of the hand to mix well and even then it used to come out quite well.I never faced this prob..also i usually bake the full cake...Try Duncan Hines...

  41. Shn,
    Thanks for that!
    I noticed that you have used cake flour instead of all purpose flour in white cake.Is it better?

    One more question(!)My Betty Crockers cake had more egg taste here and there..May be i didnt beat the egg well.When u use cake mix,do u add whole eggs or just the whites?

    Thanks for showing the patience to reply..much appreciated!!

  42. Cake flour is used for getting light airy cakes and I buy a brand called 'Softasilk'. But if you dont have that one, you can substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour, measure out 1 cup of all-purpose flour, and then remove 2 tablespoons.

    For cake mixes, I just follow the recipe written on its cover and personally I prefer Duncan Hines to Betty Crocker. You may try changing the brand or go for a white cake.

  43. Looks great and delicious.
    hugs and smiles

  44. WOW........chala amma used to make it for me...tastes awesome with kappa!

  45. I'm making this for dinner tonight. I think I'll try to shoot it, but I don't think it will be as pretty as your picture! All my favorite flavors are within this.

  46. Hi Shn,

    Tried this after a veggie diet for a month... Simply irresistible!! :-)

  47. Hi mismash,
    this is my first trip to your blog looks amazing. Tho I am not a mallu I keep looking thru all different indian cusines, and ur presentation was very gud for ppl like me to understand.
    Coming to this sardines curry, u dint mention if u used fresh or canned sardines. I cant get fresh sardines in my place. Will the canned ones make an equally gud recipe (in case u used fresh ones)



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