Kerala Meen Pollichathu (Roasted Fish in Banana Leaves)

Banana leaves insulate sea bass fillets, keeping them moist while they roast in an aromatic masala fortified with fenugreek seeds, turmeric, and coriander.

Roasted fish in banana leaf

Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

Active Time:
1 hrs 10 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 45 mins
4 servings

In India, there is a long tradition of cooking and serving food in banana leaves, especially in the southern part of the country. Banana leaves contain antioxidants, have antibacterial properties, are eco-friendly, and, of course, make food taste much better. Chef Vijay Kumar of Semma restaurant in New York City, who shared this recipe, has many cherished memories of cooking fish in banana leaves over an open fire after fishing with his grandparents in the river by their paddy fields. At Semma, Kumar’s version of this traditional marinated fish dish wrapped in banana leaves from Kerala uses whole, wild-caught sea bass for dramatic tableside presentation. Here, he calls for sea bass fillets, which are easier to source but sacrifice none of the dish’s flavor. An aromatic and bright masala layered with fenugreek, ginger, shallots, Thai chiles, and curry leaves and fortified with creamy coconut milk forms a lush sauce for the fish.



  • 1/4 cup liquid coconut oil

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon red chile powder (such as Deep)

  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander

  • 1/2 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste (such as Taj Gourmet Foods) (see Note)

  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless sea bass fillets


  • 2 tablespoons liquid coconut oil

  • 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

  • 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger

  • 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced shallots

  • 2 fresh green Thai chiles, thinly sliced (about 1 tablespoon)

  • 1 (8-inch) curry leaf sprig

  • 1 teaspoon red chile powder (such as Deep)

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1/4 cup chopped tomato

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk, well shaken and stirred

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

Additional Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup liquid coconut oil, divided

  • 4 (11- x 8-inch) banana leaf pieces

  • Lemon wedges, for serving


Marinate the fish

  1. Whisk together coconut oil, lemon juice, chile powder, coriander, ginger-garlic paste, salt, pepper, and turmeric in a large bowl. Add fish, and turn to fully coat. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the masala

  1. Heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium. Add mustard seeds; cook, shaking pan often, until seeds have slowed popping, 2 to 3 minutes. Add fenugreek seeds; cook, shaking pan constantly, until seeds begin to turn golden brown, about 1 minute. Add ginger and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and just turning golden brown, about 1 minute. Add shallots, chiles, and curry leaf sprig; cook, stirring often, until shallots have softened and turned golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard curry sprig.

  2. Reduce heat to low, and add red chile powder, coriander, and turmeric to mixture in skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

  3. Stir chopped tomato into mixture in skillet; cover and cook, undisturbed, until tomato has completely softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in coconut milk and salt. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until masala is thickened and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool 30 minutes.

  4. Meanwhile, transfer fish from marinade to a large plate, and pat dry. Heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add fish, and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes. Remove fish from skillet, and set aside.

  5. Place 1 banana leaf piece on a work surface, shiny side down. Spread a thin layer of masala (about 2 tablespoons) lengthwise down middle of each leaf, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border on both sides; top with 1 fish fillet. Spoon 2 tablespoons masala over fish. Fold long sides of banana leaf over fish, and bring short sides over to form a packet. Secure with wooden picks, or tie with kitchen twine to seal. Repeat process with remaining banana leaves, masala, and fish fillets.

  6. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over low. Add remaining 2 tablespoons coconut oil to skillet. Place fish packets in skillet, and cook until a digital thermometer inserted in center of fish registers 145°F, 5 to 7 minutes, flipping once halfway through cook time. Transfer fish packets to plates; open packets, and serve immediately with lemon wedges.


Ginger-garlic paste is an aromatic blend of fresh ginger root and garlic cloves. Find it at Indian grocery stores or online at

Suggested pairing

Fragrant, passion fruit-y Indian white win such as Sula Vineyards Nashik Sauvignon Blanc

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