Chile-Oil Fish

In Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, there’s a family-run restaurant off the main street that features home-style cooking. The butterfish I ate there was delectable, bathed in a hot sauce and served with a small side condiment of green chiles—they were pounded with salt and a little shrimp paste, to give a fresh chile hit on top of the chile oil’s heat.

Since butterfish is now listed as endangered, I make this dish and its Rangoon variation with black cod (rich and delicious) or with salmon. Check an online list and use whatever fish you can find that is rich in oils and nonendangered. The dish has an intense and lingering chile heat. Those who want to proceed cautiously can start by using only 1 or 2 teaspoons chile oil; this also allows you to adjust for variations in the heat of different chile oils.

Serve with plain rice or over couscous or wild rice to soak up the sauce. In winter, roasted celery root slices or pan-roasted potatoes are a great accompaniment; in summer, pair with crisp salad greens or a Burmese salad such as Intensely Green Spinach and Tomato Salad with Peanuts.

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  • About pounds fish filletsblack cod, salmon, or other rich fish
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • Salt
  • ½ cup minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 tablespoon Red Chile Oil, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste (ngapi), or substitute 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Red Chile Powder
  • Green Chile Paste


Rinse the fish and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces, pulling out and discarding any bones. Place in a bowl, add the turmeric and ½ teaspoon salt, and turn and mix to coat the fish. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, if you have a mortar, pound the shallots to a paste with a pinch of salt; set aside. Pound the garlic and ginger to a paste with a pinch of salt; set aside.

Heat the peanut and chile oils in a wok or wide shallow pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for several minutes, until softened and starting to turn golden. Add the garlic and ginger, the shrimp paste, if using (not the fish sauce), and the chile powder and stir to dissolve the shrimp paste in the hot oil. Cook, stirring, until the shallots and garlic are softened, another couple of minutes.

Add the fish and the fish sauce, if using, and cook for 2 minutes. Stir gently to turn the fish and cook for another minute or two, until the fish is just opaque throughout. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary, using salt or fish sauce.

Serve hot or at room temperature with the chile paste.