This is a delicious cold fish for a picnic, served with a good summer salad. It is also excellent as a sandwich filling if you mix a little mayonnaise into it to moisten it. Indonesians of course still eat pallu mara with rice, either plain boiled rice or compressed rice, but now that I have made a lot of un-Indonesian rice salads, I really think that a rice salad is the right accompaniment for this fish.
The taste is much better if the fish is cooked a day in advance. We normally use cakalang (skipjack), or tongkol or ambu-ambu (mackerel tuna or little tunny), with lots of lemon grass stalks to line the cooking pan. Make sure that the water for poaching the fish is sufficient to submerge it completely.
Clean the fish well and rub all over with salt, ground turmeric and lime juice. Keep in a cool place for 1 hour before cooking.
Line the bottom of the saucepan with the lemon grass, and sprinkle about half a tablespoonful of sea salt over it. Spread half of the sliced shallots or onions on top of the lemon grass, followed by half of the chillies, garlic and ginger. Sprinkle on another half-tablespoonful of coarse salt. Lay the fish on top of this in one layer, then spread on top the rest of the onions, garlic, chillies and ginger, and the rest of the salt. Pour in the tamarind water and add water to submerge the fish.
Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for 40–50 minutes. The lemon grass may get a little burned but this will only give a nice smoky taste to the fish. Leave the fish to get cold in the pan, unless the lemon grass is too burnt, in which case transfer the fish with the rest of the solids, (except the lemon grass, which you can now discard) to a glass container to cool. When cold, store in the fridge. Just before you serve the fish the next day, discard all the solids and serve as suggested in the introduction above.
© 1994 Sri Owen. All rights reserved.