Ikan Bakar: Indonesian and Malaysian Charcoal Grilled Fish

Ikan bakar: Indonesian / Malaysian char-grilled fish

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Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 35 mins
Servings: 2 servings

Ikan bakar is charcoal-grilled fish in Indonesia and Malaysia. The fish is seasoned with a spice marinade then wrapped in banana leaves before being laid on the hot grill. The banana leaves keep the fish from sticking to the grill, keep the moisture in and give the food a distinct sweet herby aroma. While charcoal grilling gives the dish a wonderful smoky flavor, it is also possible to use a gas grill or even a stovetop grill.

Grilled skate is a common hawker food found in the street stalls of Malaysia. Look for the ikan bakar sign if you are visiting. These stalls normally serve a variety of fish for grilling but, by far, the most popular is skate.

This is a recipe from Kuala Lumpur’s famous Bellamy Road ikan bakar stalls which are cozily tucked away in a green corner behind the King’s palace.


  • For the Marinade:
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon belacan 4 shallots (sliced, or 2 small onions)
  • 2 medium onions (sliced)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass (sliced, use only the bottom 3 inches)
  • 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger (sliced fresh or 1/4 tsp ginger powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon galangal (sliced, fresh)
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime (or lemon juice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • For the Fish:
  • 1 pound skate (or a fish, such as grouper, which doesn’t flake easily when cooked)
  • kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons oil (cooking)
  • 4 pieces of large banana leaves
  • 1 thinly sliced shallot (or small onion for the dipping sauce)
  • 1 lime (or lemon for the dipping sauce)

Steps to Make It

Make the Marinade

  1. Gather the ingredients. Pre-heat oven to 450 F.

  2. Place chili powder in a small bowl, and add some water to the chili powder to make a thick paste.

  3. Cut belacan into thin slices.

  4. Place the belacan slices slightly apart from each other on a roasting pan.

  5. Roast for about two minutes or until the edges start to brown. Let it cool down before blending. Note that roasting belacan this way will leave your kitchen smoky and with a strong smell for some time. Leaving the windows and doors open will help to clear out the odors.

  6. Place chili paste, roasted belacan, and all other marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. If it is too dry, add a bit of water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until everything blends well.

Preparing the Fish

  1. Gather the remaining ingredients.

  2. Cut the skate lengthwise into 1 1/2 inch widths—the length of each piece is dependent on the overall size of the skate.

  3. Rinse each piece and pat dry with kitchen towels.

  4. Sprinkle some kosher salt on every piece making sure that they are evenly coated.

  5. Rub on the blended marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours to let the marinade do its magic.

Grilling the Fish

  1. Preheat a flat pan or grill. A wok may also be used.

  2. Oil the pan lightly with the cooking oil.

  3. Cut a piece of banana leaf to fit the pan. If the banana leaf is a small one, cut a few pieces and place them side by side. Make sure the leaves are able to sit flat on the pan.

  4. Place the marinated skate slice by slice onto the banana leaf. Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of oil over each piece of skate. Let them fry for a total of about 10 to 15 minutes, turning the fish so that each side gets cooked evenly, especially the side with the skin. Halfway through, you may want to drizzle another 1/2 tablespoon of oil so that the skate doesn’t dry up, but rather gets nice and crispy.

  5. The skate is cooked when the flesh comes off easily from the bone. Use a fork or spoon to test. The skin should be a little brown and crispy.

Serve With the Sambal Belacan

Serve the skate on a fresh piece of banana leaf. It goes extremely well with the sambal belacan. Just add some thinly sliced shallot into the sambal belacan with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.