Every community in Southern India has their unique style and take on flavours of the curries they cook. Food in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are distinctly different to one another and yet similar in certain ways. There are signature dishes that set them apart and Chettinad cooking is one such hugely popular cuisine from the south of India. Chettinad is a region in the southern part of Tamil Nadu and is synonymous with spices, meats and robust flavours in the curries.
Fennel, red chillies and peppercorns are the main ingredients that make up the list of spices adding aroma and heat to the dishes. Chettinad Meen Kuzhumbu as its known is a Fish Curry made with these whole spices. Growing up close to the coastal region in Indian myself; I love fish and prawn curries and this curry is no exception.
As with when I lived in India eating local fish/ meat was key. For my recipe here I have used monkfish; which is meaty, firm and holds its own in the curry. It has just one central bone which makes it easier to cut into steaks and eat too. More than anything it’s local to where I am! Most of my seafood comes from a lovely fishmonger in Whitburn, U.K. where the boats come in early every morning with the freshest catch of the day. Latimers for me reminds me of my childhood and is always exciting to visit when I stock up!
I have also used 2 tsp of tamarind paste, but make sure to check the strength of your tamarind. If of course it’s quite sour & sharp, half the amount mentioned.
Heat a frying pan on a medium flame. Add all the spice powder ingredients. Stir gently and dry roast them until they start to change colour for about 3-5 minutes. They will go slightly dark brown and have a nutty aroma. Cool the mix and grind in a clean coffee grinder to a fine powder. Set aside.
In a blender blitz together the ginger and garlic with a splash of water to a puree and set aside. Also blend the onion to a fine puree separately.
Heat a heavy sauce pan with oil on a medium flame. Add the mustard seeds; as they begin to splutter add the curry leaves and fry for 2-3 seconds. Now working quickly add the fenugreek seeds stir and tip in the onion paste. Cook the paste for 4 minutes at this stage add the ginger and garlic puree and fry for a further 2 minutes. Stir well making sure to scrape the bottom if it starts to stick to the pan.
Now add the chopped tomatoes and fry for 5 minutes until they begin to soften and release their moisture. Now add the chilli powder & turmeric powder frying for a few seconds to rid of the raw smells. Add a splash of the water to make sure they done burn. At this stage also add the ground spice powder and frying for a further 30 seconds. Now add the rest of the water. Bring the curry to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 7-10 minutes as it bubbles away. Add the tamarind paste, sugar and salt. Stir well. at this stage add the fish steaks simmering on a low heat for 4 minutes until the fish is just cooked.
Now add the coconut cream, coriander and curry leaves. Simmer for a further minute. Serve warm with steamed rice and a raita.