One of Harry Soo’s favorite ways to eat fish while growing up on the tropical island of Penang in Malaysia was to have it grilled with spicy sambal. An accessible twist on a traditional dish, Stuffed Spicy Chili Paste Grilled Mackerel with spicy chili paste is aromatic, spicy, sweet, sour, and salty and will wake up your taste buds. Serve it with steamed turmeric rice.
With roots in Malay and Chinese cuisine, the cooking style called Nonya, was created when Chinese immigrants settled in Malaysia and married the local populace. Thai cuisine in the north and Indonesian cooking in the south further influenced the food.
The spice mixture is cooked, cooled, and then stuffed into side pockets and cut into the fish. The best fish for this dish is fresh mackerel, which is available frozen and thawed in many Asian grocery stores in the United States (look for Norwegian mackerel). It’s difficult to source all the authentic ingredients, such as candlenuts, torched ginger buds, or fermented shrimp condiments. However, great substitutions are readily available in the US, such as lemongrass, tamarind pulp, and bottled sambal olek.
Stuffed Grilled Mackerel Recipe
- 3 tablespoons sambal olek chili paste
- 6 shallots peeled
- 2 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 stalk lemongrass tender white part only, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon Slap Yo’ Daddy All-Purpose Rub
- 2 tablespoons tamarind pulp
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 2 whole mackerel cleaned and gutted
- 1 sprig cilantro
- 1 lime cut in wedges
- Place the sambal olek, shallots, cloves, lemongrass, all-purpose rub, tamarind mixture, sugar, and oil in a blender.
- Blend until a smooth paste forms, adding a little water if needed, and scraping down the sides.
- Cook the blended spice mix in a nonstick saucepan until aromatic, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool.
- Clean the mackerel. Place the whole mackerel on the side and carefully make a deep parallel cut following the length of the spine (you are making a stuffing pouch on each side on the fish). Repeat on the other side. Stuff the spice mixture into the pockets.
- Setup a grill with a hot and cool zone.
- Drizzle oil all over the mackerel and place it in the hot zone. When there is some char and color, flip over and char the other side.
- Move to the cool side once the char has been established. Be careful not to burn the mackerel. The oil that you drizzled will create a nice crispy char.
- Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.
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