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.
- 1 pound skate (or a fish, such as grouper, which doesn’t flake easily when cooked)
- 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)
- For the Marinade:
- 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 chili powder (for chili paste)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon lime (or lemon juice)
- 1 teaspoon belacan (roasted)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Add some water to the chili powder to make a thick paste.
Roasting the Belacan
Cut belacan into thin slices. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Place the belacan slices slightly apart from each other on a roasting pan. 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.
Blending Spices Into a Marinade
Blend the all the ingredients including the chili paste and roasted belacan. If it is too dry, add a bit of water until everything blends well.
Preparing the Skate
Cut the skate lengthwise into 1 1/2 inch widths — the length of each piece is dependent on the overall size of the skate.
Wash each piece with salt and water and dry with kitchen towels.
Sprinkle some salt on every piece making sure that they are evenly coated.
Rub on the blended marinade. Refrigerate for at least two hours to let the marinade do its magic.
Grilling the Skate
Preheat a flat pan or grill. A wok may also be used.
Oil the pan lightly with the cooking oil.
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.
Place the marinated skate slice by slice onto the banana leaf. Drizzle 1/2 tbsp 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 tbsp of oil so that the skate doesn’t dry up, but rather gets nice and crispy.
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 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.