A fish recipe without oil? No onions, tomatoes, coconut, coriander powder either? Well, that is Ambul thiyal for you. Very minimal ingredients and traditionally prepared in mud pots, yet so flavourful and to die for.
Fish is mixed up in a paste mainly containing goraka (also called Cambodge or kudampuli in South India) and then cooked up in low flame till all the water evaporates and the fish actually burns a bit at the bottom. It goes so well with rice. As it cooks the flavours that emanate will make you salivate.
The best part of it is that it can be kept at room temperature for weeks without getting spoilt. It seems that fish was preserved in this way, those days when there was no refrigerator. This is a southern Srilankan recipe, having originated at Ambalangoda, a coastal town.
The original recipe from here just uses black pepper powder and salt ground with goraka, in which the fish is cooked. But lots of modifications have been made by people from the rest of Srilanka, though most Southerners prefer to cook their traditional way.
Authentically the mud pot is lined with banana leaf and a few curry leaves are strewn over it. The fish which is coated all over with the ground paste is lined at the base in a way that every piece touches the bottom of the pan. The remaining paste is poured over the fish, and water is also added to immerse the fish pieces.
They are then cooked to boiling point and then simmered till all the moisture evaporates. Usually, tuna is used in this recipe, but you can use any firm fleshy fish and generally fish fillets are used without the bone.
This is my version, after going through a lot of recipes available online. You can follow it as is, or add the other ingredients as given in my P.S. Whichever you prefer, for fish lovers, this is a must-try.
Especially for the people of Andhra and Telengana, who are insanely in love with Gongura. As with Gongura, the sour taste of the goraka has to be balanced by the heat from the pepper and salt. When the balance is perfect the dish is divine.
Over to the recipe…
- 500 g Red snapper (Any firm fleshy fish )
- 5 pieces goraka/kambodge
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1-2 green chillies
- 1" piece of ginger
- 2 tsps pepper corns
- a pinch fenugreek seeds
- 2 handfulls of curry leaves
- 1 tbsp rock salt
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 green cardamoms
- 3 cloves
- 1" piece cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp jaggery (optional)
- Clean the fish ,and wash it with salt and turmeric.
- Cut the goraka into small pieces and soak in half a cup of water for 10 to 15 minutes
- Dry roast the pepper and fenugreek seeds
- In a mixer jar add all the ingredients except fish, whole garam masala and curry leaves and grind to a nice paste.
- Add a handful of curry leaves finally and pulse it once or twice
- Take a clay pot and line with banana leaf. (I omitted this coz I did not have banana leaf). Strew a few curry leaves on it. Coat the fish well with the ground paste, and arrange in a single layer, on the banana leaf in a way that every fish piece touches the bottom of the pot.
- Pour over the remaining paste and add necessary water to immerse all the fish pieces. Mix it over without disturbing the fish pieces. Marinate for about an hour.
- After marinating add the whole garam masala , jaggery, and the remaining curry leaves on the top. Close the vessel and cook till boiling point. You can check spices at this point and add chilly powder or salt to balance the tanginess.
- Simmer it for about 30-45 minutes till all the water gets dried up. As we prefer a little bit of gravy with the fish I normally switch it off before it dries out completely.
- Serve with plain white rice or Kiribath.
- I have added the green chilly just for the flavour, you can add more if you are looking for a spicy curry.
- In Tamilnadu, we normally add a piece of jaggery to all tangy dishes, so that the flavour is well brought out. In so far, I should be the only person to add jaggery to ambul thiyal 🙂
- Also I prefer to dry roast the pepper and fenugreek seeds as we do in India, as the flavour of the spices enhanced on frying. But in Srilanka, they don’t roast.
- As variation, you could add slit onions and/or torn pandan leaves, to the pot before cooking. Pandan leaves seem to be a must, but I did not add, as I did not have them.
- Also some people prefer to add coriander powder, cumin powder and curry powder. But I like it this way, as this is the basic version.
Check out my other fish recipes