No Cencaru? Just Upsize your Chilli Fish

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fish lovers must have read some news of late with some dismay.

Apparently there is a shortage of fish from Malaysia during the Hari Raya season, leading to a ban on imports. The fish involved are those which are popular to the Malay community including kembung, cencaru and selar.

I love any fish in the mackerel family. I have blogged about my love affair with Chilli Fish (or Ikan Sambal Chilli - fish stuffed with chilli) using the Cencaru fish and how it is always a finger-licking-good experience.  The only problem here is that it is hard to find this fish. With the latest shortage, I can imagine it will be even more scarce.

So, when I first discovered that Saba fish is sold at wet markets, I sometimes wondered how they would taste if I sumbat some chilli in. I can imagine that going well together. I asked a fish monger and he thought it is "wasted" if I use Saba for that purpose.

Hmm, I find it strange that most regard Cencaru as a lowly fish, and thus you chilly it. Whereas Saba is too good to be cooked this way. But, why not? Saba is not expensive at $5 per piece for a 500-600 gm fish.

I finally got down to trying it out. I am happy that I did because Saba Chilli fish is delicious.

Saba is just a type of Mackerel fish and you should not limit it to grilling in Teriyaki sauce. It can be cooked in all sorts of ways and with tumbling prices, I consider it value for money. One can happily feed two diners.

I list here again the recipe.

Saba Chilli Fish Recipe

For 2 Saba Fish

2 stalks lemon grase
15 shallots
1 inch tumeric
15 dried chillies
Chilli padi (optional but I use it as I think it is best if the paste is spicy enough)
A thumb size of Belachan
Sugar & salt
Some Kaffir Lime leaves

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)
  3. Add oil and heat it up in medium flame.
  4. Add blended ingredients, salt and sugar to taste. 
  5. Add the finely diced kaffir lime leaves.
  6. Fry till fragrant and take the paste out of the wok.
This chili paste tastes good as is and no harm in making more.
A slit on each side. In this pic, I am slitting a Kembung fish.
Same idea for Saba.

Preparing the fish
  1. Ask the fish monger to remove the gullet of the fish from the top opening without making a slit in the stomach. You can also do it yourself. Rinse and clean the fish thoroughly, removing all traces of blood.
  2. Slit the fish length wise on the side of the flesh (see photo). Remember that you are not filleting the fish but making 'pockets.'
  3. Sprinkle some white pepper, salt and add some lime to the fish.
  4. After the paste has cooled, stuff the paste in. Start with the top of the neck into the stomach cavity and then from the side.
Leave the fish in the fridge (the paste marinates the fish and putting in the fridge dries the skin further) and fry it nearer dinner time.

Frying the stuffed fish:
  1. Add oil for deep frying. Use a wok as Saba fish is long. 
  2. 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).
  3. As the fish is long, do it one at a time. 
  4. Fry till it is cooked. About 5-7 minutes on each side. You should see charred bits on the side where the stuffed chili is.
Enjoy with rice. Eat it with your fingers. If you know how to, the heads and necks can be enjoyed. 

This is certainly a great way to enjoy Saba fish.

By the way, Chilli fish is another recipe where the uglier and crustier it is, the better the taste will be. You won't know what I am talking about till you taste the blackened and crusty sides. 

This can feed 2 for dinner

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  1. That look awesome! We love grilled saba fish...only problem cooking it at home is it pongs up the house! Need an outdoor kitchen for this! lol