Mar 11, 2010

Jomm Makan - Grilled Fish with Banana Leaf

Grilled Fish with Banana Leaf

Malaysian Grilled Fish with Banana Leaf
Malaysian Grilled Fish with Banana Leaf pictures

This is the grilled fish recipe that I am reluctant to share. Why? Because it’s so darn good and perfect.

I had a grilled fish recipe in my archive, but that one wasn’t as good. In early June, when I was home in Penang, I had a very good grilled fish (ikan bakar/ikan panggang) at this Malay warung (stall) by the sea. I had grilled stingray, as usual. (Stingray is edible and one of the best fish for grilling, especially when wrapped with banana leaves.) The sambal topping was exquisite –spicy, aromatic, pungent, salty, sweet, and well-balanced. I examined it closely with my eyes and taste buds and tried to deconstruct what went in there and I think I might have gotten it, or at least, very close to it.

I also figured out a way to grill fish using my all-American stove top with the smell, taste, and authenticity triumph the ones served by some of the best Malay ikan bakar stalls in Malaysia. I really urge you to try this grilled fish recipe and have put together a step-by-step picture guide in the gallery above for your easy reference. I think my late grandmother and parents would have been so proud of me had they tasted my grilled fish with banana leaf. Enjoy!



1 lb. red snapper (cleaned and scales removed)
A few sheets banana leaf (rinsed with water thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels)


6 oz. fresh red chilies (seeded and cut into small pieces)
1 tablespoon toasted belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste)
4 oz. shallots
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar (or to taste)
1/2 lime (extract juice)
2 lemongrass (cut into thin slices)
4 tablespoons oil


3 red chilies (seeded)
2 bird’s eye chilies (seeded) – optional
1 teaspoon of toasted belacan
2 shallots (thinly sliced)
1/8 teaspoon of sugar
Salt to taste
8 tablespoons of water + tamarind pulp (size of a small ping pong ball)



Prepare the sambal by grinding chilies, shallots, belacan and lemongrass in a food processor. Make sure the sambal paste is well blended and smooth.

Heat up a wok and “tumis” (stir-fry) the sambal paste until aromatic or when the oil separates from the sambal paste. Add the seasonings: salt, sugar, and fish sauce and do a quick stir, dish out and set aside.


Soak the tamarind pulp with water for 15 minutes and extract the juice. In a mortar and pestle or food processor, pound/blend the red chilies, bird’s eye chilies, and toasted belacan. Add tamarind juice, sugar, salt, and sliced shallots to the sambal. Stir well and set aside.


Grease a flat pan (I used a Japanese tamagoyaki pan) and then lay a few sheets of banana leaves in the pan. Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil on top of the banana leaves and spread the oil evenly. Lay the fish on top of the banana leaves and add 3 tablespoons of sambal on top of the fish. Heat up the pan on your stove top over medium heat and cover it with a lid. (Use a towel to cover the corners of the pan in case the lid is too small to completely cover the pan. This will ensure the heat traps inside the pan during the grilling process.) Wait for 8 minutes or so and flip the fish over to the other side. Add 3 more tablespoons of sambal on the other side. Cook for another 8 minutes or so. By then, you can smell the sweet aroma of burnt banana leaves and grilled fish. Dish out and serve immediately with sambal belacan and sliced shallots condiment.


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