Monday, April 1, 2013

Karuvadu kathrikai Kulambu- Dried Fish with brinjals sour and spicy curry

Karuvadu or dried fish is either delicacy or a smelly preparation that makes you hold your nose. Growing up I would never have been exposed to these tasty morsels of fish if not for my neighbor(lovingly known as peiamma). I do not remember the taste but only a vague remembrance of having eaten it there.

I am afraid karuvadu is not as popular in the Kongu regions of TamilNadu where we moved to after the first few years of life in Madurai where we could get all kinds of seafood. Add to this my mom's vegetarian side of the family whose food preparations and habits is what I have largely adopted it is even a wonder I have the guts to cook dried fish in my own kitchen. If not for the love of fish I would not have gone any where near it.

I purchased some dried seer fish from a Srilankan store when I went there with my friend. From fish sambol to seeni sambol and everything fish in between my occasional visits to this store is well worth it.

Since these dried fish are heavily salted they need to be appropriately cooked for it to be tasty.

Every region in Tamil Nadu has its own version of dried fish kuzhambu. Here is mine. I added brinjals because brinjals and dried fish like a match made in heaven are so good together. Even drumsticks would be a good addition but I decided to give it a pass.

Karuvadu is something I would not cook very often but occasionally having the house smell a bit fishy is not a bad thing. From wrinkling her nose at the smell of the fish to enjoying it DD2's range of emotions from when I started cooking it to when she tasted it and asked for more is the typical reaction of most people tasting this for the first time.

For those who are worried about the smell it is only initially when it starts to cook then there is hardly any noticeable smell.

I watched this you tube video-Vathalagundu Karvadu kulambu and that is what propelled me into the kitchen to cook the dried fish I have been saving for close to a year. I used some ideas from there but it was kind of surprising the cook did not use any tamarind.

To keep it vegetarian skip the dried fish add more shallots, a few pieces of drumsticks and a potato or beans like val(mochai).
Karuvadu Kathrikai Kuzhambu - Dried fish with brinjals sour and spicy curry
Preparation Time: 15 min
Cooking Time: 30 min
  1. 200gms of dried fish (I used Seer dry fish)
  2. small purple brinjals 6-8
  3. 4-6 garlic cloves sliced
  4. 3/4 cup of shallots diced
  5. 1 tomato sliced
  6. 6-8 red chillies
  7. 1/2 cup of thick tamarind pulp
  8. 1/2 tbsp of kuzhambu thool or sambhar powder
  9. 1 tsp red chili powder (optional)
  10. 1 tsp turmeric powder
  11. 2 tsp of jaggery (optional but brings out the sour and spicy taste of the curry)
  12. salt to taste
  13. 2-3 tsp of oil
  14. seasonings: mustard seeds, curry leaves and fenugreek seeds (methi)
  15. roasted and powdered fenugreek powder about 1/4 tsp
    Masala Paste
  1. In a pan add a tsp of oil and saute 1/2 cup of the onions and red chilies and saute till the onions are brown, add in the tomatoes and saute till they are mushy. Cool and blend to a smooth paste adding a tiny bit of water if required.
  2. In a wide mouthed pan heat the rest of the oil (2 tsp) and add the seasonings, first mustards seeds followed by the rest.
  3. Add the chopped onion and saute till translucent followed by the garlic and saute for a couple more minutes.
  4. Add in the dried fish and saute it in the oil for about 3-4 minutes and fish them out. ( I do this because the brinjals have to cook and don't want the fish to fall apart).
  5. Now add the slit or cut brinjals and let them saute for 3-4 minutes or till brown spots appear on the brinjals. Now add in the masala paste and tamrind juice and 1 cup of water and let them come to a boil. Simmer till the brinjals are cooked and the sauce thickens a bit.
  6. Add in the fish pieces and check for salt in about 5 minutes and add more salt if required and the jaggery if using. I like to add a tiny bit to any tamarind based curries.
  7. Sprinkle the powdered fenugreek (methi) powder and turn off the heat.
Absolutely have to serve it with steamed rice. Tastes even better the next day.


  1. All I remember of dry fish is the smell. I never even had the guts to try it. When I saw this post in my facebook news feeds and mentioned it to my husband, he was excited about it. Now the question is, where can I find dry fish other than the Srilankan store.

    1. Usha, I know you have to get over the smell to be open to trying it. I think the smell might have been overpowering if I had fried the fish but in a curry it is not all that bad.

      Try Asian grocery stores (Chinese or Korean) stores. Sometimes even Indian stores have it. The small dried anchovies will taste great in this too.

    2. Thanks indosungod. I will check the Indian store.

  2. Slurp, been ages i prepared this kuzhambu,makes me hungry.

  3. Yummy! we also add Val(mochai), drumstick and green plaintain(vazhakai) to this preparation.The vegetables tastes awesome in this dish. Its usually made with dried anchovies. I like soft boiled eggs on the side.

  4. My grandmother with whom I grew up couldn't stand dry fish and so we never ate any. Just once my other grandmother made a curry with lemon cucumber and dry prawns and sent some over for my grandfather - I tasted it then. One other time when a friend from Salem brought some to the hostel, I loved it - they had been de-dry-prawned with a hefty dose of oil and chilli and other masala, I never ate anything like it again. At home, we tried cooking it once long, long, long ago, I don't remember what the result was, maybe we threw it out. Another time, I valiantly ordered Bombay Duck in a restaurant even though The Spouse wasn't happy with the smell. Though I knew what to expect, I couldn't take it after a while, it was just too smelly and we asked the waiter to dump it.

    1. The dried fish in the market does have a strong smell. Once it is cooked though the smell is hardly noticeable. Perhaps some dried fish smell more than the others.

      I am not sure what Bombay Duck is. Have to look it up.

      Dried shrimp pickles taste great I would imagine.

  5. Dried fish is much loved in Bengal and Orissa. But that smell is a put off which is why most people do not try it. Like you said it does go away after cooking. Mustard paste is used most of the times to make a very dryish dish. This is different but sounds very tasty ... espcially that tamarind tang. :-)
    Google reader is gone ... how do I keep track of your posts Indo? :-(

    1. Got to try it with mustard paste. I have started using mustard sauce in pasta and it is very welcoming to the bland pasta otherwise.

      I know!! the few other readers that I linked to, have to start using to see how friendly they are. Change is hard :(

    2. Sharmila, try Feedly - started using it and it the most easiest transition. It connects to Google readers and transfer over all the subscriptions automatically. Will keep you updated about how it works.

  6. Dried fish is cooked in mustard paste to make a wonderfully dryish dish in Bengal and Orissa. Your dish looks lip smackingly good ... especially due to that tamarind. :-)
    Google reader is gone ... how do I keep track of your posts Indo? :-(


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