Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Roasted Fish with Kokum and Onions

I have an out of print Marathi cookbook that some consider to be the Pathare Prabhu recipe bible. Given to me by Mum when I got married, deciphering the script is an exercise in perseverance, as this is a language my brain and tongue has lost its dexterity for. Yet this treasure trove is full of childhood favorites, lovingly recreated by my grandmas, mum and a host of aunts. All of them owned a version of this classic. My copy is dog-eared. A crumbling spine causes pages to scatter and fly. Margins are filled with hints from the past. The magic happens when I open a page. I can hear ancestral voices echoing instructions and observations. I see kitchen of yore. I feel memories of the past washing over me. 

Roasted fish, one of Mum's favorites, is now mine. Hers was a large pomfret, dressed with masala and then oven roasted. The fish was sliced tabletop, us siblings fighting over the triangular tail piece. The art of eating fish with tiny bones fades even as I write. While fish, roasted with bones, has a completely different taste, filets are a way of life in my house. No more digging out flesh. No more swallowing tiny bones. No exhortations for spoonfuls of white rice to dislodge errant bones in your throat. At least not at my table!!! 

You need a meaty filet. Something that will hold up to a twenty minute roast. The filet is coated with a thick layer of thinly sliced onions, fresh coconut, kokum or dried mangosteen and spices. The longer the roasting time, the crunchier the topping. 

Serves 4

6-8 Fish Filets (Halibut, Red Snapper, Tilapia)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
2 large Onions
1 cup fresh grated Coconut
2 green Chiles, minced finely
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
10 Kokums, washed well in warm water
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric 
1/2-1 teaspoon Chile powder 
1/2 teaspoon Pathare Prabhu Sambar powder or Garam masala
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
2 tablespoons Canola Oil 
Cilantro sprigs

Wash and dry fish. 

Line a sheet pan with nonstick foil. If you use regular aluminum foil, spray foil with nonstick spray.

Alternately grease an ovenproof baking dish.

Season fish with salt. Rub salt well onto both sides of filets.

Heat oven to 375F.

Half onions. Cut halves into thin slices. Place in a bowl.

Add coconut, chiles, cilantro, kokums, turmeric, chile powder, sambar powder, salt and oil to onions. Use your hands to squish everything together.  A spoon doesn't quite do a good job of mixing. Onions need to be squeezed to release their flavor.

Take 1/2 cup of onion mix and scatter it over the foil. If you are using a baking dish add a layer of onions to the dish.

Place fish over onions.

Liberally top the fish with the remaining onion mix.  

Place sheet pan or baking dish in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, till the topping has browned.
Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve.


I don't know of any substitute for kokum. It has a natural sour flavor. You could use lemon slices in place. I haven't tried that so I cannot comment.

Fish comes alive with these flavors. Roasted onions, brittle coconut, tangy kokum and fresh cilantro imbue the mild fish. The glorious memories of whole roasted fish area thing of the past, but the present is replete with flaky fresh fish favorites of a bygone generation.