Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bali Spicy Grilled Fish - Ikan Bakar Jimbaran

Bali Spicy Grilled Fish aka Ikan Bakar Jimbaran means whole grouper marinated in a spice paste that includes onion, garlic, galangal, coriander, tamarind and red chilies, which is then grilled over coals and basted with sweet soy sauce.

Best enjoyed in a fresh island breeze that carries the smoky grilled smell to your table, followed quickly on by the charred sweet and spicy fish itself, this dish brings me right back to Bali, Island of the Gods. 

If you’ve read my About Me page, you know that Indonesia is one of the places in which I’ve had a bedroom, first in my father’s home in Jakarta and later, as a married person, in the small oilfield town of Balikpapan on the island of Borneo. When I’d tell people we lived in Balikpapan, they’d say knowingly and with some how’d-you-get-that-gig admiration, “Oh, Bali!” No, sadly, not Bali, not even close in attributes and amenities, but, fortunately, it wasn’t that far to get to when we needed a break.

And when we did spend time in Bali, we ordered the ikan bakar, or grilled fish. Over the years, I’ve tried to recreate it more than a few times at home. This version is the closest I’ve ever come to our memories of the original. I have to warn you that cooking it is a two-man job and requires a charcoal barbecue pit with a lid to control the flames which lick up at the fish, essential for flavor, but a challenge to manage. The second person is needed for basting quickly while person number one holds the lid off briefly, poised to close it quickly as the flames shoot up. 

We want lots of charred bits on the outside, but succulent white flesh inside. I also find that using a fish shaped metal barbecue basket greatly simplifies the task. Ikan bakar is traditionally served with a raw sambal of lemongrass, purple onions and chilies, with shrimp paste or ground dried shrimp, called sambal matah or green mango sambal.

My ikan bakar Jimbaran was adapted from these two recipes on Recipkoki and Bumbu Ikan Bakarku. Who knew I could remember that much of my Bahasa Indonesia, the Indonesian language?!

1 whole fish about 3 1/3 lbs or 1.5kg (Red Snapper or Grouper or other white fish) Mine is a Grouper.

For the marinade:
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
5 candlenuts (Sub macadamias if you can’t find candlenuts.)
8 small shallots or equivalent weight in purple onions, peeled
5 cloves garlic, peeled
3 red chilies, stems cut off
3 teaspoons sour tamarind paste or equal amount of fresh tamarind, seeds and fibers removed
2 in or 5cm piece galangal, peeled and chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons canola or other light oil
Juice half a lime (if your tamarind isn’t very sour)
1/3 cup or 90ml water

For the basting liquid:
1/2 cup or 120ml kecap manis or sweet dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons canola
Warm till butter melts, whisk to combine.

Use a mortar and pestle to grind the coriander seeds to a fine powder then add the other marinade ingredients up to and including the sea salt, a few at a time. Grind everything to a smooth paste.

Sauté the paste in the oil for about 10 minutes over a low heat, until fragrant. Add in the water and cook for about 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove from the heat and allow the spice paste to cool before proceeding.

Clean your fish (or have your fish market guy do it for you) but leave it whole. Slash the fish down to the bones with a very sharp knife.

Heap the marinade on both sides and use your fingers or a spoon to make sure that it gets deep into the slashes. Rub marinade inside the fish as well. Leave to marinate for an hour or so. If you are preparing it ahead of cooking by several hours, put it in the refrigerator.

About 20-30 minutes before you are ready to cook the fish, light your charcoals.

Make your basting liquid by adding all the ingredients to a microwaveable measuring cup and warming it in the microwave until the butter is just melted. Whisk to combine.

When the coals are white, your fire is ready. Spray your barbecue basket with non-stick spray and put the fish inside securely.

Whole fish come in different thicknesses so it’s hard to tell you exactly how long to cook your fish. This one took about 20 minutes all together. We did about eight minutes on one side.

Then eight minutes on the other to start.

Once it’s just about cooked, start basting with the sweet soy mixture, turning the fish frequently.

Keep the lid down to control the flames so the fish smokes but the sugar in the soy doesn’t burn too much. Some char is desirable though. And some of the black is actually the dark soy. Check for doneness by separating the flesh up near the head with two forks. Fully cooked fish will be white to the bone.

Bring the whole fish to the table and let folks serve themselves by removing the meat from the bones.


Many thanks to our two hosts for this week’s Sunday Supper, Cindy of Cindy’s Recipes and Writings and Marlene of Nosh My Way for motivating this walk down culinary memory lane in search of a tropical recipe to share. If you are looking for more tropical inspired recipes, you have come to the right place this week!

Tidbits and Pupus
Condiments and Sauces
Main Event
Delectable Delights


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