Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Kerala food: Karimeen, The Fish of God’s Own Country

Karimeen (Pearl Spot or Pearlspot), which belongs to the Cichlidae family is a perennial favorite with the fish loving Keralites. It is a brackish water fish found in the lakes, rice fields, canals and ponds of South India and Sri Lanka but can survive in fresh water and highly saline water for short periods.

There are dozens of recipes for cooking karimeen. One interesting factor is that deciding how to prepare karimeen, to a great extent, would depend on the size. Over sized karimeen and the tiny ones are not good for the pan. Ideally, fish that number five to seven per kilogram should be taken for frying. Usually people end up paying more for larger fish which may not be suitable for the recipe in mind.

The photo (copyright reserved) above is a fried karimeen from Olavipe.

What does one do with karimeen that is larger than the one in the photo?

We bake them in the traditional way. Marinated full fish is kept in a chatti (earthen vessel) that is over fire, with banana leaves under and above the fish. The chatti is then covered with its lid and embers are placed over it. Every few minutes the fish is turned over and coconut oil poured on it. Properly done, there is no other karimeen preparation to beat this, according to me.

The size of of a mature karimeen, though it might impress people, is not a yardstick of the taste. Karimeen from the Vembanad Lake and Ashtamudi Lake are much more delicious than the ones from, say, Veli Lake near Trivandrum and Chilka Lake in Orissa. Also, cultured karimeen is less tasty than the ones growing naturally.

Some people confuse karimeen with pomferet and tilapia. The taste and texture of each are different. The pictures given below should help in identifying the different species.

Pomfret (image from Wikimedia Cmmons)

Tilapia (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Karimeen is a healthy food. Traditionally, coconut oil is used for cooking it. Both the fish and coconut oil contain Omega3 Factor which is cardiac friendly according to modern research. However, there is strong opposition to coconut oil from some quarters.

Use whatever cooking medium you prefer, but karimeen will still taste really good.

Also see: Kerala food: Kappa (cassava or casava, yuca, manioc, Manihot esculenta)


Kariyachan said...

Wonderful post.

Karimeen Pollichathu , and another variety 'Mulaku Arachu Palu Pizhinjathu' - the latter prepared in coconut milk - are second to none in taste.

Certain exotic freshwater fishes like 'Nangku' , 'Thirutha', 'Manja Koori', 'Kalanji' and the likes of 'Aaarakan' etc have become a rarity or have become extinct due to over use of toxic pesticides and hemical fertlizers.

kallu said...

Mouth watering even to someone like me who is not a great fish lover. Maybe it has to be fresh and prepared with love the way you describe it for fish to be really appreciated.

Nebu said...

Last week I paid a visit to my mother. She had prepared ‘Karimeen Varathathu’ for lunch. Maybe to show her affection she chose the large one. When I asked her about the size and quantity, she told me that three made a kilo. I told her that even you, her cousin brother, who may not have seen the inside of a kitchen (Pun intended), knew the optimum number that should make a kilo. It didn’t appear like she was convinced. This weekend she is coming to stay with me for a few days and I plan to show her your post.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Kariyachan, names of some of the fishes you mentioned make me feel nostalgic. You are right, they have become rare these days.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Kallu, really, the way some of these items are prepared is a labour of love.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Nebu, the joke in the house is that if I ever learned how to light a stove I could become a good cook.
My answer to that is 'a coach need not be a good performer himself'.

Anonymous said...

We have caught a +1 Kg. Karimeen from Manchanbale Dam down stream of Thippagondanahalli Dam, fried and ate it. So Karimeen will live well in Bangalore too!