Kottayam fish curry- Fish in fiery red sauce



Fish is indispensable in Kerala. The way it is made varies from place to place, but it always make it to the table for lunch or dinner. This is how fish curry is usually made in the households in Kottayam. When my grandfather was alive, we had fish every single day. That’s right. Every single day!!

When I blogged an okra recipe recently, I got a lot of requests for the fish curry that was shown in the post. The truth of the matter is that until recently my fish curries never tasted as they should. We started writing down the recipe every time we made it, and made changes to adjust the taste. We believe this recipe comes closest to the fish curry back home. Thanks to Manisha whose initial request started this whole post.

We make our fish curry in a chatti. The chatti in our home has a story to tell. The story that ends with, ” Wives know better”. When we were in Kerala last vacation, I mentioned that I would like to take a chatti back with me. Satish had a big problem with that, and was making all kinds of excuses. He was confident that the chatti wouldn’t make it home in one piece. Thanks to my persistence, the chatti made it home with us. Guess what he wants to bring back this time!! Ha-ha..

Now to the fish. Fresh fish is hard to come by, unless you have a Chinese store with fresh fish. We usually buy catfish from the local grocery store. Mallu stores have frozen fish from Kerala, but some of them lose their taste when frozen. This time we used salmon fillets. Back home, we have meenkarans ( fish monger) that brings fish right to your doorsteps. When I was a kid, they used to come on a cycle, with a basket of fish tied to the back of the cycle. They would honk their horns as a signal, and I was often made to run out of the house to flag him down. Then my mother would look and choose the fish, and sometimes neighbors all gather to discuss fish. If you had a cat, it would be close by, sniffing and rubbing against your legs, hoping to get some heads and tails.


Fish – 1lb. We used salmon fillets this time. We added some salt to the fillets to make them firmer, so that they don’t break easily. If you do this, be careful when you add salt to the curry.

Oil- 2 tbsp ( I use coconut oil)

Curry leaves- 1sprig + 2 or 3 f0r layering in the chatti

Mustard seeds, Fenugreek seeds- 1/4 tsp each

Shallots- 4 or 5 , sliced fine

Ginger- 2 tbsp , finely minced

Garlic – 15 cloves( if the cloves are small, leave them whole)


Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp

Red chili powder- 2 tsp

Paprika – 3 tsp

Kudampuli- 2pieces ( clean in running water and soak them in water with some salt added to it)

Water- 1cup or more, as needed


Kudampuli soaking in salt water


Step 1:

Layer a few sprigs of curry leaves at the bottom of the chatti. Layer the raw fish on top of that.


Step2: Making the gravy

Heat oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the fenugreek seeds. When the fenugreek seeds starts to change into a deeper color, add the shallots, ginger, garlic and curry leaves. Cook on medium heat till the shallots turn dark brown. Then add the chili powder and turmeric powder. Stir to combine with the oil.

Lower the heat and add paprika. Stir quicky. Paprika burns fast, so don’t leave on fire too long. Add water and the kudampuli which was soaked in some salt water. I usually add the salt water also. It looks muddy from the puli but I think it adds to the taste. Add enough water to make a watery gravy. Bring to a rolling boil.

Step 3: Bringing everything together

Pour this into the fish that has been arranged in the chatti. Cook covered on low medium heat till the fish is cooked ( 15-20 mins). Every 5-8min grab the chatti with mitts and give a slight swirl. This is the best way to make sure the flavors blend without breaking the fish pieces. Cook till the fish is cooked and the gravy is lightly thick. ( some people prefer a watery gravy)

Taste for salt . Just before serving, add some coconut oil on the top and fresh curry leaves to garnish.


The curry is good right off the stove, but the flavor intensifies after a day.

The curry can be left out in room temperature, especially in winter. Every night it is slightly warmed over the stove. During winter, our fish curry stays outside for atleast 3 days.

Coriander powder is omitted to increase shelf life.

Adding coconut oil over the fish curry after it is cooked can add a wonderful aroma, and I don’t recommend missing this step.

To serve : My favorite way is to eat this with rice and a thoran.

Also goes well with chappathi, puttu and the perpetual favorite, kappa and meen ( here and here).

49 responses »

  1. I always liked the red fish curry especially with mathi as the fish. Goes awesomely great with chapathi and parotha. Only if I could download the curry itself from youtube… πŸ™‚ I hope somebody there will be foodcasting!

  2. Gini! Thank you! Mine looked nothing like this because I was out of paprika. And I used a lot less garlic. But it was the most delicious fish curry I have had in the longest time. That, too, sans coconut!

    You are a great teacher. I layered the curry leaves, the fish and then the curry just as you have shown! Your video is way cool! It gave me a better idea of the amount of garlic you used.

    I used awful kokum, as you know. I haven’t had a chance to go look for kudampuli because we were all sick from two back-to-back viral infections. Your kudampuli looks plumper than the dry shriveled kokum I used. I must make this again, with salmon and kudampuli.

  3. Such a different way of making a fish curry, at least vastly different from the Bong way. Kerala & West Bengal are the two highest fish eating states and yet there is so much difference in which they cook it, amazing
    Liked the video blogging πŸ™‚

  4. Gini, all the mallu bloggers have onething in common , love for the fish curry and the meenkaaran story, i also had one in my post :)I will try ur recipe for sure , probably this week itself. first time when I brought the chatti to US, it was in 100 pieces , second time I kept it in my hand luggage and it worked πŸ™‚


  5. Thanks, Asha!

    Riot, it is always good to see you here.
    Haven’t had mathi in so long. No fresh looking mathi around here.

    Manisha, thanks! Good luck next time! The offer on the kudampuli still stands:)

    Ok,Sumitha. To post the video of the entire process needs some editing, for which I have no talent. One of these days!

    Maneka, try it. The garlic looks and tastes great!

    KF – Kappa and meen, who can resist it? We can finish a whole chatti of fish curry if we had some kappa to go along with it.

    Sandeepa, I still haven’t tried Bengali fish curry. I do want to make the one with the ground mustard. Soon!

    Mishmash, so true!! I brought my chatti wrapped in a lot of cloth. I used to really like my meenkaran. He was an old sad looking man, and I would feel guilty if I didn’t buy fish from him.

    Bee, you sure you commented on the right blog? I certainly hope so:)

    Monisha, that fish curry makes my mouth water too. Literally, when the fish curry starts to boil my mouth always water. Kind of like the Pavlovian response of the dogs:)

  6. This is the same one we make, but my husband always has a conflict in which puli to be added as i always go for kodampuli & he hates…but i think Meen curry wont be meen curry without kodampuli!!
    Try using a bit of uluva podi..it enhances the taste.

  7. Looks just perfect..i am drooling here gini.Meen curry made mann chatti..wow..I still don’t have a chatti.This is top priority thing to buy on my next trip to india.Thanks for sharing.

  8. Question about the chatti: does it have a lid or do you use a regular steel lid?

    Will let you know about the kudampuli. The thing is I don’t want to get lazy, you know? It’s so easy to say yes without making an effort of my own! πŸ˜€

    BTW the Kerala food high continues at my home!

  9. Dhanya, I think I have to go with you. Fish curry without kudampuli is not really fish curry. I used to add the uluva podi for some time but then resorted to just adding the whole uluva with the mustard seeds. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Thanks, Maheshwari. Yeah, make it a priority πŸ™‚ Well worth it!

    Manisha, I use a regular lid. Clay lids are available in Kerala, but my chatti didn’t come with one. I heard about the Kerala food high. Waiting for some recipes from the book before I make my decision about purchasing it.


  10. Gini, I don’t know how I missed your blog so far… wonderful fish curry recipe… Your post brought back some nice memories… I brought some chattis back from home too, but don’t use it much, I kind of forgot about those…

  11. Wonderful & clear presentation ! I just bought Salmon so would like to try out your wonderful non-coconut recipe, though I’ve never tried meen curry without coconut. I’ve one question though…..the wet kokum is different from the original kodumpuli right? If I’m using wet kokkum, how much should I use for this recipe?


    RG, I did send you an email. Hope you got it.
    But regarding your question, I am not sure about kokum and kodampuli being the same thing. From what I have read, it can certainly be used in a fish curry as the souring agent. So I would go ahead and use kokum instead of the kodampuli. Start with a piece of two for a pound of fish, and adjust to your taste.
    Is there anyone who knows more about kokum. This is something I hear often, but haven’t got much answers so far.

  12. Yummy! I brought a (small) chatti with me back from Kerala two years ago, and it does really make for a nice flavor. I so wish I had brought a bigger one back as well. Here in CA you can buy kodampuli, but you have to look for it…it’s not as easy to find as kokum.

    I’m making this tomorrow…

  13. Thanks Inji for the education. So kokum is Goan, I had associated it with Andhra. Sweet sour and bitter sour – I think that was a very apt explanation.

    Reena, I also bring kudampuli from home. At Satish’s home they have their own tree and boy, is the kudampuli potent! Just a couple of pieces will do the job. We have been in a long quest to create a fish curry that was almost close to the taste we had back in Kerala. It took a long time to finally figure out the amount of chilly powder and paprika for the dish. I am so glad that the guess work is finally gone and now we do have a working formula for fish curry.

    Diane, mine is really small too. But since we make only for the two of us, it is more than enough. But the temptation to get a bigger one is always there, so maybe this time we will get a bigger one.
    I used to buy kudampuli from the stores here but they are not the same as from back home. I am so glad that we finally brought some with us during our last trip. It is so much potent and gives a nice bitter sourness ( to quote Inji) to the dish. Hope you enjoy the dish as much as we did.

  14. Wow, you have put your chatti to good use. It was like yesterday that you posted about your chatti and asked how to use it …. [ok, it was about a year and a half back.. ] and here you are using it like a pro.

    Loved the video and the fiery look of the curry. I will give it a try. Can I use tamarind instead? (I am allergic to kudampuli or kokum. I have no clue why. gives me headaches!)

  15. Hi

    I am backfrom my long trip in India , got tied up with some unfortunate casualties …back to life in US now, takes a while to get used to life here …hey guess what this time i picked up kudampuli from my sis -in law… now me all set to try this firey fish recipe !!

  16. Kay,I am not sure at all. It is definitely not going to be the same. Is it a headache a couple of Tylenol can get rid of?

    Reena, thanks for asking. Yeah life is really busy as it is end of my semester and busy with work too.

    Vanita, glad you are back and get settled soon! This curry will put the kudampuli to good use for sure.

  17. Hi Gini,
    Am first time here..I like this curry ..
    I have some friends from Pathanamthitta, so I would taste this when I visit them..what is paprika in malayalam?

  18. Pravs, welcome to Salt and Pepper. I have been to your blog few times. I am a fish addict too. If a week goes by without fish, serious cravings set in.

    Seena, I am pretty sure it is piriyan mulakupodi.

    Oh good, Anita!! Where did you manage to get the kudampili? INA market?

  19. Hi Gini
    Yummy! It’s the same way as my mother makes (I am also from Kottayam).
    The entire blog is so yummy and mouth-watering. I will be visiting this often.

    Thanks, Bindu. It was nice reading your blog. I couldn’t agree more with working less πŸ™‚

  20. Gini, tylenol doesnt help with my migraine.. unfortunately kudampuli/kokkum seem to be a trigger for my migraine.. I have no clue why. Btw, The fish curry looks awesome.

    That’s strange. Thanks for the nice words.

  21. Hey Gini, How re u ? I wanted to try a different curry while preparing the fish and suddenly your prep came to my mind and did try out this recipe and it turned out well πŸ™‚ It is almost similar to my MIL’s prep except that she doesnt add fenugreek and mustard seeds…… Thank you !:)


  22. Hi Gini! Just made this fish curry and it is the best fish curry I have made using a non stick.Yes Gini,I am those unfortunate few who doesnt have a manchatti:(
    Neverthless,it turned out superb! loved the addition of lots of garlic in the curry!

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  24. Wow – sounds delicious! We’re having a salmon recipe contest and awarding the winner with 15 lbs. of wild salmon! We’d love to have you submit a recipe as well as help spread the word.

  25. Does anyone know where to buy a chatti or kodumpuli in the bay area — preferebly east bay or SF? I have tamarind pulp but thats not even close 😦 ..what can I use instead of a chatti? Thanks, merin

  26. Gini,

    Thank you for the most amazing fish curry ever! My mom makes it almost like this! I swear I could’ve licked the last drop of curry off the pan πŸ˜€ Finally something that doesnt use too much coconut πŸ˜€


  27. ayyo….enikku vayya.
    thanks a million, i was searching for such a recipe for many years! exactly the same way they cook! thanks again….i became a fan of yours with just this one!

  28. I had this fish curry during my vacation to Kerala and loved it.I tried to make it several times but it was not even close.
    But after I tried your recipe, I got the taste I have been looking for.
    Thank you so much.

  29. Pingback: Fish Curry and The God of Small Things « Wee Scoops

  30. Hi,

    I’m not a big fan of non-veg, but my husband & our kid loves fish. My earlier attempts at making this were not very good until I stumbled upon your recipe… Now all our friends who have had this says I make really yummy fish curry, Thanks to YOU. Have given all of them the link to this recipe. I still don’t eat the curry I make but enjoy cooking this and watching others relish it!!!

  31. Thank you. This is the right receipe for the mid-Kerala people. Some of the receipe I searched, I lost my appetite.
    good job.!!!

  32. Good Information. Thank you for sharing and I want to share information about Madras Bistro which provides our guests with an authentic North and South Indian vegetarian dining experience. We are located in Hackensack, New Jersey and serve a wide selection of dishes representing the tastes of India.

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