Ikan Sumbat using Selar Fish (Chilli Fish)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ikan Sumbat using Selar Fish - This recipe was shared at the O.P.E.N. kitchens event. Click here for some videos of the event where you can see the fish stuffing and frying in action.
If there is one dish which reminds me about my late mum, it has to be this and this was why this recipe was chosen. It is also the "makan dengan tangan" thing.

It was her favourite dish - by far - and considering she had so many delicious recipes, I find it interesting that this simple and cheap dish should give her so much pleasure.

As a cook, she always enjoyed seeing others eat her creations and she often said that she will eat later as she was "full from cooking." But when it came to this, it seems like she was cooking it for herself. She could eat two fish at one go. She always ate eat it with her hands and insisted that we did likewise. 

And it will be just this fish, fresh cucumber and rice. Another dish would be an unnecessary distraction.

If she saw that our leftovers were not cleanly eaten, she will have them too and showed us how to eat Ikan Sumbat properly. Her favourite part is the top half of the fish - head included - where the crispy bits are for one to suck and lick the feline way. She would eat - and lick - her fish cleaner than all of us. The leftover bones looked as if a cat had gone through the fish.

Quite amazing, to recall Mum's love affair with "Lat Chiew Yue", as she would call it in Cantonese. 

Traditionally, this Malay dish is made with Cencaru fish or Hard Tail Scad (see the pic at the bottom of this post). It is not easily available in most wet markets but you can get them in Tekka or Geylang Serai. 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.

My Mum said that she prefer to use Ikan Selar as the meat is sweeter and I will agree with that. 

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 safely.

The ingredients use. Not in pic: bird eye's chillies, oil, salt, sugar


For 10 Selar fish
60 shallots or 10 pieces of large onions
10 cm (4 in) turmeric
20 chillies
5 or more bird’s eye chillies (chilli padi)
2 tbsp shrimp paste (belacan) 
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsps salt
10 kaffir lime leaves (daun limau perut), diced finely
200 ml tbsp of oil for the sambal 

Oil for wok-frying

Serve with fresh cucumber, mint leaves and fresh lime.

Preparing the sambal paste

Blend or pound coarsely the lemongrass, shallots, tumeric and the two types of chilli into a paste.

Toast the shrimp paste for a minute on a dry pan.

Heat up the wok and add the oil. To make sambal, enough oil is important. After a minute, add the blended paste, tamarind paste and toasted shrimp paste. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the finely diced kaffir lime leaves.

Preparing the fish
Remove the gills of each fish from the top of the collar of the fish without slicing the stomach. You could get your fishmonger to do this for you. Under running water or in a by submerging it in water, use your finger to dig out and remove all the entrails from the cavity, and clean out all the blood sticking to the inner sides. This is not difficult...it is like digging your nose! Some like to eat the kidney (whitish in colour) and you can choose to live that in. 
Slit the back of the fish lengthwise on each side of the dorsal fin. Cut midway into the fish – just before you hit the spine – but not all the way to the stomach. Remember that you are not filleting the fish but making two pockets along the back of the fish. Leave about an inch unlit from the tail so that the pocket will not break when frying. Rub some salt all over the fish.

Using your fingers again, stuff the paste into the stomach from the top of the collar and then, fill in the two pockets. Leave the stuffed fishes in the fridge for about an hour. The paste marinates the fish and refrigeration dries the fish, making it easier to fry.

Frying the fish
The best technique is to fry the fish in a wok with only half it’s body submerged in the oil. Heat up the oil till it is hot.

Pat the fishes dry. You can fry 3 fish at one. Pick up the fish by the tail and gently slide it into the wok without splashing the oil.  Fry for about 6-7 minutes in small to medium flame before turning over and do another 3-4 minutes. Duration is dependent on the size of the fish, how hot the oil is and how charred you want the fish to be.  

Let the fish rest and cool down before eating. 

This dish is best served with rice and cut cucumber.

The sambal chilli can also be cooked with ladies fingers or squid. So, keep the extra sambal for future use. 
This recipe was shared at the O.P.E.N. kitchens event. Click here for some videos of the event where you can see the fish stuffing and frying in action. 

 Ikan Sumbat using Cencaru

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