Meen Pollichathu {Baked Fish With Indian Spices}

Meen Pollichathu {Baked Fish With Indian Spices}

Folks, this dish right here, might just be the best one I’ve ever made. Just ask the hubby. The one who could barely put two words together while wolfing it down.

There I was, slightly cranky because I had to clean the whole fish, which made our tiny un-ventilated kitchen smelly beyond words. I cut myself on the fish bones, which might be an impossible feat for any other normal human being. I had no idea how the stuff would look or taste when I opened the parcels and all the mister could do was grunt when I asked him how it was.

Meen  Pollichathu or Baked Masala Fish Parcels

Once done, he very sweetly explained that what he just did was the best compliment ever. He was too busy and happy to talk, it seems. Ha!

Meen Pollichathu {Foil-Wrapped and Oven-Baked Fish With Indian Spices}JPG

But I knew he was right. Not to toot my own horn, but the thing was pretty delicious. Almost like the real deal. Meen pollichathu is a traditional Kerala delicacy most often prepared with the popular karimeen (pearl-spot), an extremely delicious and bony fresh-water fish. You can technically use any fish to make them, but somehow, a whole karimeen just hits the ‘spot’ in this recipe.

Meen Pollichathu {Foil-Wrapped Oven-Baked Fish With Indian Spices}

I used the next best thing available here – whole tilapia. None of the filleted, bland chunks of fish will do here. You need the bones and the head and all the goodness of a whole fish. If you have never had fish with the bones and head intact, let me try to explain how that works. Imagine going through your entire life eating only breaded, bland chicken strips. Then one day, someone plops a juicy, well-marinated, roasted whole chicken in front of you. Yep, that’s exactly how it is and that’s exactly what you are missing if you’ve never eaten un-filleted fish.

Whole Tilapia Fish

Meen pollichathu starts by marinating the fish in a simple turmeric powder, red chili powder and salt marinade. The fish is then lightly fried and kept aside. Then we make a spicy and tangy masala. Nothing fancy or complicated here. Just some curry leaves, onions, ginger, lots of garlic, tomatoes and maybe some cilantro, all cooked with Indian spices. This masala is spread on a piece of banana leaf, the fish is placed on top and more masala is spread on top. The banana leaf is wrapped tightly around the fish, making a little parcel. This is then kind of steamed/grilled on a hot griddle.

Masala For Meen  Pollichathu or Baked Fish Parcels

Now, we don’t have banana leaves here and so, I simply decided to bake the foil-wrapped masala fish parcels in the oven. Worked like a charm!

Meen  Pollichathu or Baked Fish Parcels

The fish is steamed with all the goodness of the spicy masala, which coats the fish all over. Once done, the flesh is flaky, moist and just perfect! Be sure to serve it with hot, steamed rice. I used the traditional red ‘matta‘ rice, which goes wonderfully with the fish.

Red Matta Rice And Indian Baked Fish (Pollicha Meen)

And that’s it. When you get to the end, ditch the fork and tear into the fish with your fingers. That’s how it’s done!

Here’s the recipe.

Meen Pollichathu {Fish Baked With Indian Masala}


You will need:

To marinate and fry the fish,

  • Whole tilapia or any medium-sized fish – 2, scales and guts removed and cleaned
  • Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Red chili powder – 1 tsp
  • Salt – 1/2 tsp
  • Oil – 1/4 cup, for shallow frying

For the masala,

  • Oil – 2 tbsp (can use oil leftover from frying fish)
  • Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Curry leaves – a few, torn
  • Onion – 1 large, finely chopped
  • Ginger – 1 tbsp, grated or finely chopped
  • Garlic – 3-4 cloves, crushed and finely chopped
  • Green chilis – 2, chopped
  • Tomatoes – 2, chopped
  • Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Red chili powder – 1/2 – 1 tsp (as per heat desired)
  • Coriander powder – 1 tsp, heaped
  • Garm masala powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt – to taste
  • Water – 1/4 cup or as needed
  • Lime juice – from half a lime
  • Cilanro leaves – a few

How to:

  • Make a paste with the marinade spices and rub liberally over the fish on all sides. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
  • Heat oil in a pan and shallow fry the fish till lightly browned on both sides. Remove on to a paper towel lined plate and keep aside.
  • Discard the oil in the pan, keeping around 2 tbsp worth for the masala. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves and when they crackle, add the onions and saute till they are lightly golden.
  • Now add the ginger, garlic and green chilis and saute till aromatic. Ad the tomatoes and cook till they turn mushy and can easily be broken down with a spoon.
  • Add all the masala powders and saute for a minutes. Season with salt.
  • Add water, lime juice and cilantro leaves. Cover and cook the masala for a few minutes. Open the lid and cook the masala till no longer very runny.
  • Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 400 deg.F and tear off two large pieces of foil for baking the fish.
  • To assemble, place some of the cooked masala in the center of the foil. Place the fish on top and spread some more masala over it. Arrange a few lime slices around it, if desired. Tightly cover the fish with the foil and pinch the edges closed to create a sealed parcel. Repeat with the other fish.
  • Place the fish parcels in a baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove the parcels from the oven and open carefully (it will be hot!).
  • To serve, spoon the fish and masala on to a plate and serve hot with steamed matta rice, lime wedges and a few slices of fresh red onion.


  • If you have banana leaves, select a large piece of leaf for each fish parcel. Pass the leaf directly over  low flame on the gas stove to make it pliable. This conditioning will help you to fold the leaves over the fish and not break them. Tie the banana leaf fish parcel with a piece of kitchen twine or the fiber of a banana leaf, as is done in a traditional Kerala kitchen!

Meen  Pollichathu or Baked Masala Fish Parcels With Red Rice

How awesome is that? A traditional recipe adapted for modern needs!

Do try this recipe, even though it does seem like a bit of work. If you are apprehensive about cleaning and using a full fish, you can use boneless fish steaks like those of kingfish, mahi mahi or even salmon. I am sure you would love it.

Of course, if you are lucky enough to have banana leaves on hand, please use it by all means. Nothing beats the flavor!

I am taking these masala fish parcels over to Angie’s for the second installment of the Fiesta Friday anniversary party. Yes, we are cool like that and party for weeks at a time!

PS: Vegetarians, kindly excuse me this time 😉

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26 thoughts on “Meen Pollichathu {Baked Fish With Indian Spices}

  1. Luscious fish treat! For a fish to taste yummy, it must swim three times: in water, in butter and in wine. I do that most of the times for the best result. You too try.

  2. Policahtu sounded like my blog name Polianthus, well almost, so I had to visit, then I started reading and I was hooked – line and sinkered…:) – sorry it’s the fish that made me say that – whole tilapia never seen that before, if you find them here they have freezer burn, so wouldnt taste nice, and getting cut on the fish – well – you must be very talented 🙂 – I admit I couldnt make this I’d be too daunted by the whole process, but I would eat it like a shot. Seems I must fly to Kerala again!

  3. Pingback: First Fiesta Friday Anniversary (Part 2) | The Novice Gardener

  4. God bless you my dear for really going for it with the whole fish! Isn’t it funny that we both took on whole smelly fishes this week! And truly, your baked creation looks amazing. I’m glad your husband liked it so much, doesn’t that kind of reception (silence and occasional sighs and grunts) make all the “work” worthwhile???!!!

  5. Anjana, I love your analogy of the chicken strips and the juicy roast chicken – it’s brilliant and so true. Your fish looks absolutely amazing and full of flavour too – I am not surprised that your hubster was speechless!! By the way, if you have a Chinatown nearby, you may be able to find banana leaves there. Thanks so much for sharing this with us – such a great addition to the table! Happy Fiesta Friday!

  6. Beautiful presentation, Anjana! This is taking “fish parcel” to a whole new level. I love everything about this dish, the masala must season it to perfection…delicious! Thanks for sharing your recipe with all of us at Fiesta Friday!

  7. Wow this looks amazing! I’ve never cooked with whole fish before – the head and eyes don’t bother me like most people, it’s the bones! If I’m eating fish and I get a bone in my mouth I can’t eat the rest haha! I know it’s irrational and I have no idea where that comes from, maybe it’s a subconscious fear of choking haha! I think I could get past it for this dish though, it looks so yummy and flavourful!

  8. Oh my Anajana, this dish has my name written all over it. Oh, how I adore whole fish, bones and all. It’s probably the fact that fish is the mainstay of Goan cuisine like it is in Kerala? When I visit the market here, I’ll always buy a few filetted steaks, but will always sneak about one or two whole fish, gutted and cleaned to savor at home. Your masalas sound quite similar to the fish rechado that we use, we stuff the insides with this masala and bake it. Just wonderful!

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