(Updated with new photos on May 28, 2012)
A true Malay classic, ikan panggang/ikan bakar (grilled fish with banana leaves) is very popular in Malaysia. Loaded with dollops of sambal or spice paste, the fish is grilled with banana leaves over charcoal fire.
The smell of burnt banana leaves imparts the fish with a smoky flavor and the sambal infuses the fish fillet with layers upon layers of spicy taste.
Ikan Panggang/Ikan Bakar is usually served with sambal belacan with sliced shallots. I love the sambal as it adds that extra kick to this wonderful street food, found throughout Malaysia.
The key ingredient of ikan panggang/ikan bakar is the sambal. I used chilies, shallots, lemongrass, etc., and a little bit of belacan as the ingredients. For the fish, stingray wings/skate wings are ideal, but I substituted it with a sole fillet (you can also use any flat fish).
Preparation might take some time as you will need to pound the sambal with a mortar or pestle (traditionally) or you can just use a food processor. As soon as the fish is grilled and the inviting aroma of the burnt banana leaves and the fish fills the air, you will realize that the end result is well worth the effort.
1 lb fish fillet or whole fish (for example: red snapper)
Grilled Fish Sambal:
6 oz. fresh red chilies, deseeded 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 or 1 calamansi lime (limau kasturi), extract the juice
2 lemongrass, cut into thin slices
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
4 tablespoons oil
Sambal Belacan and Sliced Shallots Condiment:
3 fresh red chilies, deseeded
2 bird’s eye chilies, deseeded
1 teaspoon of toasted belacan
2 shallots, thinly sliced
Sugar to taste
Salt to taste
8 tablespoons of water + tamarind pulp (size of a small ping pong ball)
Grilled Fish Sambal
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.
Sambal Belacan and Sliced Shallots Condiment
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.
Grilling the Fish
Lay a few sheets of banana leaves and grease the surface of the banana leaves with some oil. Lay the fish fillet on top of the banana leaves and add about 2 – 3 tablespoons of sambal on top of the fish. Spread the sambal evenly. Place the fish on top of the grill (upper rack with indirect heat) and cover the grill. Wait for 8 minutes or so (depending on the heat) and flip the fish over to the other side. Add 2 – 3 more tablespoons of sambal on the other side of the fish. Cook for another 8 minutes or until the fish is cooked. Transfer the fish and the banana leaves to the lower rack and grill for a couple of minutes with direct heat, or when you smell the sweet aroma of burnt banana leaves. Transfer out and serve immediately with sambal belacan and sliced shallots condiment.
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