Meen Kuzhambu

Meen Kuzhambu is TamilNadu’s pride. It is something we can safely call ours, originally conceived and prepared (and being prepared) in TamilNadu. No fusion-confusion here. I am recent convert. I wasn’t a Meen Kuzhambu fan earlier. In fact I am not a huge fan of Kuzhambu in general. But I have slowly started to appreciate the nuances of a well-made Meen Kuzhambu – soft, flaky perfectly cooked fish drenched in a wonderful medley of hot, tangy and spicy kuzhambu.  Meen Kuzhambu tastes best with hot steamed rice and hot pan fried fish fillets. It also goes splendidly well with Idli or Dosai. Making a good Meen kuzhambu they say is an art, not everybody can do it. I’d like to disagree. A good Meen Kuzhambu is a piece of art but I think if you can master the 3 important components of making the Meen Kuzhambu, you can make some beautiful art too. The first, most important component of it is the cleaning part. If you’ve cleaned the fish well, you’re kuzhambu will not smell fishy. Make sure to scale the fish thoroughly by scrubbing the fishes, skin side down on a coarse stone. Once scrubbed properly (you should see whitish scaly stuff run out), the skin side should be a wee bit coarse and not as slippery and smooth as before being scaled. Rinse well in 2 or 3 changes of water. The second component is extracting the tamarind juices. Now, this seems too trivial but it isn’t. The proof of the kuzhambu is in the puli (tamarind). Soaking the tamarind in water for about half an hour makes it easier to extract the juices. Once you’ve extracted the first juices, add water in small increments (half a cup at a time) squeeze and extract the juices and strain. Repeat till you have the strained tamarind juice which is roughly the same amount as the amount of Kuzhambu you’ll finally end up with. By adding small increments of water, you extract better without diluting too much. The third component is about getting the consistency right. Meen Kuzhambu is not a very thick kuzhambu, but it shouldn’t be too runny either. Usually when the kuzhambu boils, it is time to drop in the fishes. At this stage do the back of a ladle/karandi test to check if the kuzhambu lightly coats the back of the ladle/karandi. If it doesn’t, then...
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