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Sambal Stingray (Malaysian-Portuguese Baked Fish)

Why It Works

  • Baking the fish in banana leaves perfumes the dish and retains the fish moist.
  • Cooking the fish with the spice paste (as an alternative of serving it individually) ensures that the fish is seasoned and flavored from the beginning.

Malaysia, like a lot of the world, has a protracted historical past of being colonized by European international locations. Its historic port metropolis Malacca was conquered in flip by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British (who then made their method all through the nation), leaving indelible marks all around the cultural panorama. You possibly can see it within the structure of many older authorities buildings in our state capitals, the pervasive segregation of society by ethnicities, and, after all, in our meals.

Severe Eats / Michelle Yip


The Malaysian Portuguese (additionally referred to as the Kristang) is by far some of the resilient communities within the nation, with their very own festivals, music, and delicacies which have survived till right this moment. Should you’re touring by way of the state of Malacca, you’re certain to get suggestions from vacationers and locals alike to strive the domestically ready Portuguese baked fish, a particularly well-liked menu merchandise that has made its method across the nation to residence kitchens and even shopping-mall meals courts. It’s basically fish smothered in a wealthy and spicy paste, wrapped in banana leaves, and both grilled or baked. When it’s cooked with skate, it’s additionally known as sambal stingray, although any type of fish (resembling snapper) will do.

Apparently, this archetypical dish of the Portuguese group solely took place within the twentieth century. Martin Theseira, Portuguese group chief and activist from Malacca, states confidently that Portuguese baked fish as it’s served now was not in existence earlier than the mid-Sixties when he was a young person. “There’s a spice paste mixture well-liked in Kristang kitchens referred to as rempah sayur (which means ‘spice paste for greens’), which historically consists of candlenuts, recent chiles, fermented shrimp paste, and Asian shallots,” he explains. His good friend and part-time fisherman Charlie Overee is the primary individual he is aware of who experimented with pairing rempah sayur with fish and grilling it. It turned a favourite occasion dish, the recipe spreading from household to household, and ultimately turned a part of the menu in Kristang eating places round Malacca. 

Severe Eats / Michelle Yip


Lately, every household has their very own model of spice paste for Portuguese baked fish. Considered one of my private favourite variations of it’s served at De Lisbon Restaurant. Julie Rodrigues, head cook dinner and proprietor of the restaurant, tells me that her recipe contains lemongrass (which isn’t a conventional part of rempah sayur), and makes use of dried chiles as an alternative of recent chiles. Perfumed even additional with makrut lime leaves, the baked fish is served with a small squeeze of calamansi juice to perk up the flavors, and served with white rice.

The fish of alternative used at her restaurant and plenty of different eateries are purple snapper and sea bass, as they’re simpler to obtain recent, however I like it cooked with skate. The recipe shared under is my very own approximation of the model served at De Lisbon, ready with skate, and baked within the oven for comfort.

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