Some evenings, everything comes tumbling together in a way that is so perfect you couldn’t replicate it if you planned for months. Cool, crisp weather, mild enough to sit outdoors if you wished. A few friends who just dropped by and stayed on, extending the day. A couple of exciting bottles of wine you picked up on holiday that you’ve been waiting to try; and a bunch of fresh vegetables in the fridge. You want great food on the table without too much time in the kitchen, time you’d rather spend at the table in good company, with that glass of wine in your hand. When this happens, it just has to be a fish fry night.

In my everyday cooking, I am often pleasantly surprised at how a very old, rustic recipe that we have all loved and taken for granted can translate into something quite modern –like a traditional Coorg fish fry, for instance. There are just a few ingredients to play with: fish, salt, turmeric, chilli powder, a little rice flour and of course, a spoonful of that dark, silky kachampuli, without which much of our cooking would not be the same. If you want a little more complexity to the flavours, you could add a spoonful of ground garlic and ginger. But the basic ingredients never change, and the results are always the same if you happen to be frying whole mackerel or sardines –hot crisp fried fish, moist and flaky on the inside, enclosed by charred, slightly smoky skin.

I love both these oily fish, mackerel in particular, with its rich flavour and meaty texture that absorb spices so well. The only disadvantage is all those fiddly bones you have to work your way around. Of late I’ve grown quite lazy, getting my fishmonger to filet them, ready to fry, which takes away the effort of picking your way through lines of sharp fish bones. There’s always a stash of these filets standing by. So if it’s to be a fish fry night, all it takes is a quick marinade of spices, a couple of dips into a pile of rice flour which crisps the skin beautifully when fried and a squeeze of fresh lime juice to finish. I serve these with a couple of fat, ripe tomatoes, a generous helping of chopped spring onions and a glass of chilled white wine.

There’s hardly anything more simple or perfect. Mackerel is such an intense fish it does all the work for you, with just a salad for company. You can serve a glass of champagne as an aperitif if you feel like it, and then this version of an old Coorg favourite.

That’s how we find ourselves around a dining table every now and then, sipping glasses of chilled Sauvignon Blanc, talking into the night and eating this crisp fried fish. It fills my mind with images from another world: of smoke-blackened walls in a wood-fired kitchen; a wide black cast iron griddle on which the fish was shallow fried, sizzling slowly to perfect doneness, absorbing some smoky flavours along the way, before bring carried to the table in batches. Lime juice that trickled down fingers as we squeezed some onto the fish mingled with the spices and was quickly licked up. Everyone pinched morsels of fresh fish wrapped up in crispy skin and finished every scrap on their plates. Some things never seem to change.

Image Credits: Nithin Sagi
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa

Thank you for visiting this page. If you read something that you enjoy, or see an image that you like, please take a moment to write a response. Do look out for the recipes of all the food featured here in my upcoming cookbook.

Kaveri Ponnapa

Kaveri Ponnapa is a widely published independent writer on food, wine and heritage, based in Bengaluru. Her features appear in leading publications. She graduated with a Master’s Degree in Social Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

    1. Kaveri Ponnapa says:

      Hi Kaverappa, thank you! It’s such fun to see traditional dishes work beautifully on modern tables. Do keep writing in, it’s always great to hear from you. Warm wishes. Kaveri

    1. Kaveri Ponnapa says:

      Hello Kavitha, I am so glad you like this page, thank you very much for writing in. I love cooking our classic Coorg dishes, and it’s always exciting to see that they can transformed without too much effort into modern presentations, without altering the flavours. Do keep visiting these pages and share your thoughts. Warm wishes. Kaveri

  1. Neethu says:

    Mackrell fry yummy! Since we don’t get kachumpuli here in Dubai I use vinegar…I will try it with kachumpuli…I always wondered why my family used vinegar in the fish masala….now I would like to think if it’s because my coorgi grand parents and mom could not find kachumpuli once they moved out of coorg…thank you for writing so well and the photography I’m just drooling…so beautiful!

    1. Kaveri Ponnapa says:

      Hi Neethu, welcome to The Coorg Table! This is one of the simplest, most delicious fish fries, so easy to make, crispy and moist at the same time. I can guess that your grandparents must have wanted to keep the distinctive tang of a Coorg fish fry. You can try using malt vinegar, it will give you a little bit more of the taste you are looking for. Do check out this link for more on ingredients in Coorg cooking: https://kaveriponnapa.com/kachampuli.html I’m so glad you like the post, and the pictures-do keep visiting this page, and try out some of the other recipes too. Warm wishes.Kaveri

    1. Kaveri Ponnapa says:

      Hi Madhavi, please do try the recipe, it’s so good. You have several choices of substitutes for kachampuli – malt vinegar; just lime juice or even a small amount of thick paste from soaked kokum. Kodampuli is from the same family as the fruit that goes into the making of kachampuli. Basically, you need a sharp, sour flavour, one that is not too thin in texture. So you have lots to experiment with – I hope you enjoy the fish,look forward to hearing from you. Warm wishes. Kaveri

  2. Amita says:

    Delicious! I wondered whether Kachampuli could be substituted by Kodampuli of Kerala and was happy to read about it in your link!

    1. Kaveri Ponnapa says:

      Hello Amita, thanks for visiting this page. I hope you enjoy mackerel fried the Coorg way.I can never get enough of it – rich, crispy and moist all at the same time. I love the way the rice flour crisps up the skin of the fish, making it even more delicious. Don’t forget to eat it piping hot. Warm wishes. Kaveri

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