Some local dish names just don’t translate well into English, and Ikan Cili Padi is one of them.
Somehow, the name Bird’s Eye Chilli Fish, or Fish with Bird’s Eye Chilli, does not fluidly roll off the tongue or seem half as tasty as the Malay version.
So, let’s stick to what we all call it in Malay, regardless of the language we speak.
Ikan Cili Padi is a baked fish dish slathered with a dark, thick, black-as-sin and almost as spicy paste-like sauce.
It’s best paired with steaming hot rice. Don’t be afraid to get into it with your fingers as you savour the juicy, spicy fish, and unashamedly lick the bones clean.
• 1 whole red snapper
• 1 stick lemongrass, bashed
• 5 kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn
For the sauce:
• 3 tbsp fish sauce
• 3 tbsp Gula Melaka (coconut sugar)
• 1 tbsp thick caramel soy sauce
• 1 tbsp belacan, roasted
• 5 strips of petai (stink beans), beans only
• 15 shallots
• 15 cili padi kampung (birds eye chilies)
• ½ cup calamansi lime juice (also known as calamondin lime)
• 3 tbsp cooking oil
• Heat the oven to 180°C.
• Clean and gut the fish thoroughly. Pat dry.
• With a sharp knife, make thin cuts on both surfaces of the fish, at a 45° angle roughly 2cm apart. Cut only halfway through the flesh and not all the way to the bone.
• Stuff the fish’s cavity with bashed lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, then place the fish on a non-stick pan. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 63°C.
• While the fish is baking, prepare the sauce. Except for lime juice and cooking oil, blend all the other ingredients together until thoroughly mixed. You want the sauce to be slightly chunky, so don’t blend the mixture until smooth.
• Heat the cooking oil in a pan. Once hot, add in the blended mixture and fry until fragrant.
• Add in the lime juice and bring to a boil.
• Plate the fish once cooked, and pour the sauce all over. Yummmmm…
• Any fleshy fish goes with this recipe. You can also use sea bass or hardtail (cencaru), although if using hardtail, deep frying the fish is recommended.
• A glutton for stink beans? Feel free to add more!
• Frying the sauce mixture will release potentially cough-inducing fumes, so keep your face well away from the rising steam.
• If you want your sauce a little wetter, add ½ cup of water.
• Serve with hot rice, some vegetables and your favourite dishes.
This article first appeared in butterkicap.com
Butterkicap is a food and culture platform and community that enables anyone to experience Malaysia through stories of her people, food and places.