Auntie Ruby's Chili Fish - The best way to enjoy this is to eat it with your hands

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This is my tenth blogged recipe! Great. Now, I have another nine hundred and ninety more to go.

After I started my own blogspot with my first recipe, I proudly told one of my daughters. She almost screamed and reacted with an alarmed look. For a moment, I thought she was displeased that her father had joined her in the world of blogging.  Then we realised this: she heard me say that I have a bald-spot. We had a good laugh.

Ok, let's get down to food.

Chili fish, or sometimes called Sambal Fish is yet another dish with a generic WYSIWYG name. A mackeral fish stuffed with fried chili paste and then deep fried.

Whenever my Mum laid this dish on the table, we dropped whatever we were holding - literally. We were always reduced to our bare hands. All inhibitions were cast away as we tore the fish apart the "finger lickin' good" way; accompanied by white rice.

It is an appetizing dish and ranked very highly on our wish-list whenever my Mum visits us. Actually, this is one of her favourite dishes. She would eat - and lick - her fish cleaner than all of us. There is the flavourful chilli-laced flesh to enjoy, the crunchy head and neck parts to chew through and the overflowing sambal chili to lap up. The leftover bones looked as if a cat had gone through the fish.

Traditionally, this Malay dish is made with Cencaru fish or Hard Tail Scad. It is not easily available in most wet markets. The skin is hard and the middle scale should be torn out (the fish monger can do this for you). It is great for this method of cooking or served in assam curry. The flesh is firm and the neck portion is crispy when fried. This dish can also be made with other members of the Mackerel family like Kembung, Selar and yes, even the larger Saba fish.

The chili stuffing is important and I will give details on how to make a good paste. Properly fried, every part of the fish can be enjoyed. This recipe is a good case in point on how a relatively cheap and ordinary fish can result in an appetizing meal in the hands of a good Malay or Nonya cook.

Talking about hands, the only way to eat this is with your hand. Not only will it be more delicious, but your fingers are the best bones detector. And hush, don’t talk too much if you want to enjoy this.

Stuffed Kembong

Chili, lemon grass and tumeric
(shallots not in pic)
Auntie Ruby's Chilli Fish Recipe

For 10 fishes (Cencaru, Kembung or Selar)
6 stalks lemon grase
30 shallots
2 inch tumeric
15 fresh chillies
Chilli boh
10 chili padis
A thumb size of Belachan
Sugar & salt
Kaffir Lime leaves
half a small bowl of oil

Preparing the Chili paste
  1. Blend the chopped lemon grass, shallots, tumeric and chili.
  2. Toast the belachan. Don't use the powder form which is not as fragrant as those in paste form.
    Frying the Chili paste
  3. Heat up some oil and fry the blended ingredients. Add salt and sugar. Note that you should not put into much oil, unlike other kinds of sambal, as you will be frying the stuffed fish again. A dryer paste also ensures that the stuffing stays in the fish.
  4. Fry for about 10 minutes. Add the finely diced kaffir lime leafs and take the paste out of the wok.
This chili paste taste good as is and no harm in making more.

Preparing the fish
  1. Ask the fish monger to remove the gullet of the fish. If he is kind, he will also remove all that stuff from the stomach. If not, you have to do it yourself. Rinse and clean the fish thoroughly.
  2. Slit the fish length wise on each side (see photo). Remember that you are not filleting the fish but making 'pockets.'
  3. After the paste has cooled, stuff the paste in. Start with the top of the neck and then from the side.
A slit on each side
Leave the fish in the fridge (the paste marinates the fish) and fry it nearer dinner time.

Frying the stuffed fish:
  1. Add oil for deep frying. The oil's level should be mid-way up the fish. Heat up the oil first before you put the fish in (prevents the fish sticking to the pan or wok).
  2. Fry till it is cooked. About 8-10 minutes on each side. You should see charred bits on the side where the stuffed chili is.
Stuffing the Chili
Neck view - stuff the chili here first
This dish is best served with rice and cut cucumber.

The sambal chili can also be used to cook with lady fingers, squid etc. Keep the extra for future use.

Enjoy with your is another simple reason why you
do that - to FEEL the BONES and avoid an expensive visit to ENT

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  1. Thank you for sharing Aunty Ruby's recipe. She is one special cook and now her legacy of good cooking flows through the hands of her sons. I am sure many will be blessed by her recipes.

  2. Thanks Soba. We shall do her proud!

  3. Hi, how much chili boh do u put? it's listed in ingredients but without the amount. Thanks.

  4. This post brought tears to my eyes. My paternal grandmother (Mama) used to make this for us whenever she visited. She was originally from Malaysia, and got married in Singapore. This was my favorite dish from her, but unfortunately I was 11 when she passed away. For two decades I have regretted never having the chance to learn how to cook this dish from her. Thank you SO MUCH for having this on your blog, I am going to try this.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Likewise, memories of my Mum and past family gathering around meals pushed me to cook my (and eventually blog) my mum's dishes. Family cuisine is family tradition.

  5. Do you think oven-grilled version will taste equally good?

    1. I correct my earlier comment. Yes, grilling it in the oven will work too.

  6. I've seen alot of my dad's chili fish but this post highlighted it! Haha! *craving*

  7. Nutty - it is plain chilli paste. You can use either fresh or dried chilli to make the paste too. Or use a mix of both.

  8. Thanks but I am still confused! In your ingreduent lists, there are already fresh red chilies and chili padi. And with the chili paste - there will be 3 different types of chilies to be used? There's a lot of chilies needed then! LOL

  9. :) - the chilli big actually means blended dried chilli. So three types of chillies - paid for he spiciness, dried chilies for the deeper intense taste and fresh ones for ...well, the fresher taste. Can cut off the padi if yr dried chillies are spicy enough

  10. Thank you so much for this blog! I'll come back often to try out your other recipes. I guess I'll try out this recipe on Friday when I've gotten all the required ingredients. By the way, do you have a curry fish head recipe as most of the stalls have a tendency to sell Assam fish head! Thanks again! ��

  11. I do have a big fish head in my fridge and will get round to cooking it and will post e recipe


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