Fish Grilled in Banana Leaves with Tamarind Chili Sauce

Ikan Bakar Asam


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    4 to 6

    servings as part of a multi-dish meal

Appears in

My friend Lui brought her sister Veronica Ang Liew Kee, a seasoned Singaporean cook, over to teach show us the fine points of some of her best dishes. This recipe, and the Chicken rice, owe a debt of gratitude to Lui and Veronica’s tutelage.

The juicy skate (called stingray in Asia) holds up well to intense flavors of the spice paste. Its sometimes-sharp flavor is calmed by the sweet, spicy, sour chili paste used here. Although it’s called “grilled,” the dish is often made on the stovetop on a hot griddle. This chars the outside of the leaves and imparts a smoky flavor. But grilling is the best method, so, if possible, fire up the grill for the most dynamic flavor.


  • ¼ cup (¼ oz. / 7 g.) Dried red chilies, stems and seeds removed
  • 6 med Shallots, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves Garlic, roughly chopped
  • 5 (about ¼ lb) Long red chilies or other hot red chilies, roughly chopped
  • 5 Candlenuts or macadamias
  • 1 Tbsp. Malaysian shrimp paste (belacan), toasted
  • ¼ tsp. Ground turmeric
  • ¼ cup Vegetable oil
  • ¼ to ½ cup Tamarind pulp
  • ¼ tsp. Kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. Granulated sugar
  • 4 piece Banana leaves, 12 inches (5 cm.) by 2 feet long (about 1 package of frozen leaves)
  • 1 lb. (454 g. Firm fish (four 4 oz. / 113 g. portions) such as tilapia, sea bass, or skate (no thicker than 1 inch (2.5 cm.)
  • ½ cup Sliced onions, about inch (0.3 cm.) thick
  • 8 to 12 Kaffir lime leaves, bruised
  • 2 to 3 medium Limes (Calamansi or Key if available), cut into Southeast Asian style wedges (pg. 108)


  1. Soak chilies in ½ cup room temperature water for 30 minutes; drain, reserving soaking liquid. Squeeze out excess moisture from the chilies.
  2. Make the spice paste (rempah): Puree soaked chilies, shallots, garlic, fresh chilies, candlenuts, shrimp paste, and turmeric in a blender until smooth. Add only as much water (use water from chilies), as needed to facilitate blending. (Alternately make the spice paste in mortar.
  3. Cook the rempah: Heat oil in a wok or 2-quart (2 L.) saucepan over medium heat; add rempah. Cook, stirring constantly, until oil separates from solids, about 10 minutes. Stir in tamarind, salt and sugar; adjust seasonings to taste (it should be strong, as it will be seasoning fish).
  4. Prepare the Banana leaves: Wipe with a damp cloth or paper towels to remove the dirt. Slowly pass the leaf over a medium-high stove flame or electric burner to soften. The color will change from light green to a dark, deep, shiny green with a waxy texture.
  5. Place 2 Tbsp. of cooked rempah on each leaf; spread the paste to equal the dimensions of the fish pieces. Place fish on leaves; top with another tablespoon of rempah. Scatter onions and lime leaves over the fish, and then wrap the leaves around the fish to form a packet. A tight wrapping helps trap the steam to properly cook the fish.
  6. Cook on grill, griddle, or sauté pan over medium-low heat, 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until leaf is charred and fish is cooked through. Use an instant read thermometer (135°F or 57°C) or sneak a peek to check doneness. Serve with lime wedges.