Grilled Fish with Banana Leaf

11:00 am on 26 September 2011

In Malaysia this dish is prepared using small sting ray but it works really well with skate wings or any flat fish. It is a quintessential street food that can be found in just about every food court which is where all the street food hawkers are now housed.


1 kilo skate wings or whole flat fish such as flounder
banana leaves, washed and dried or aluminium foil


  • 2 red chilies
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 1 tablespoon toasted balacan (shrimp paste)
  • 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2½ teaspoons sugar
  • juice of ½ lime
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

Dipping Sauce

  • ¼ cup tamarind pulp
  • 3 red chilies, seeded
  • 1 teaspoon of toasted balacan*
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced)
  • sea salt and sugar to taste

To serve
coriander leaves
lime wedges



Seed the chillies and chop finely. Finely slice the bulb end only of the lemongrass (discard what is left). Grind the chilies, lemongrass, balacan and shallots in mortar or small food processor. Make sure the paste is well blended and smooth.

Heat the vegetable oil in a hot wok or fry pan and gently fry the paste until the oil separates from the paste and it is fragrant. Season with salt, sugar and fish sauce, adjusting until the flavours have just the right balance of hot, sweet, sour and salty. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.


Soak the tamarind pulp with water for 15 minutes and extract the juice. Pound the chilies and toasted balacan in a mortar or small food processor. Add the tamarind juice, sugar, salt, and sliced shallots. Stir well and set aside.


Grease the flat side of a griddle or a barbecue plate with oil and lay a few sheets of banana leaf or foil on top (one for each fish).  Grease the leaves or foil with more oil. Heat the griddle or plate to medium high and then lay the fish on top of the leaves and spoon over about 3 tablespoons of the sambal. Cover with a lid and cook until the fish is half cooked. Carefully turn the fish over and coat the other side with sambal. Cover again and finish cooking. (The cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fish).
By now there will be a delicious aroma of burnt banana leaf and grilled fish. Transfer the fish, still on the banana leaf, to a platter and garnish with coriander leaves, wedges of lime and the chilli condiment.

* Balacan (pronounced blachan) is a pungent paste made from dried and fermented shrimp, sardines and other small fish that is salted, mashed and formed into cakes. It is used to flavour many dishes in South East Asia. Readily available at Asian supermarkets. 

To toast balacan, wrap in tinfoil and hold over an open flame or hot element for a few minutes until it becomes aromatic.

John Hawkesby’s wine recommendation

Julicher Estate 2009

Pinot Gris
Stoneleigh 2011

From Nine To Noon

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