Ikan Cencaru Sumbat Sambal (Stuffed Fish) — Whip It UP!

Ikan Cencaru Sumbat Sambal (Fish Stuffed With Sambal). Photos: Jason Chai


By Jason Chai, head chef of Makan Nyonya café

Ikan Sumbat is comfort food in Malay and Peranakan households. Just by adding sambal, it turns ordinary fried fish into a dish with spicy umami flavours. Serve it for your buka puasa dinner.


Total Time: 1 hour
Cost: $15.00
Difficulty: 2/5
Serves: 6 persons (1 fish each)

A: Sambal Stuffing

9 fresh red chillies, seeded
15 dried chillies, soaked and seeded
30 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons belacan (fermented shrimp paste), dry toasted and crumbled

1½ tablespoon asam jawa (tamarind pulp), soaked in ¼ cup warm water, strained
600g grated coconut
3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons sugar


B: Fish

6 ikan cencaru (aka hardtail mackerel) approximately 1 kg, washed and gutted


C: To Fry Fish

600ml vegetable oil



1.  Using a sharp knife, cut two deep slits along backbone of fish to create ‘pockets’ for sambal stuffing. Do the same with the remaining fish.

2. Grind both types of chilli, shallots, garlic including belacan in a food processor to a fairly fine paste. Alternatively, use a mortar and pestle to pound ingredients to a fairly fine paste.


Ingredients for the raw rempah.


3.  Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a wok or saucepan over high heat. Put rempah in. Cook 3-5 minutes, then turn heat down to medium. Continue cooking till rempah becomes aromatic and reaches a stage called pecah minyak (when oil separates from solids, indicating that rempah is sufficiently cooked). Add toasted coconut. Stir until it is incorporated.

Stuffing for fish
Grated coconut mixed with sambal as stuffing.


4. Pour in tamarind extract. Continue cooking until rempah becomes thick but not runny. Season to taste with salt and sugar. Allow it to cool down.


Sambal stuffing ready to be stuffed into the fish.


5. Stuff 1½-2 tablespoons of rempah inside the pockets of each fish. If desired, stuff an additional tablespoon into its cavity.

Ikan Sumbat
Fill up pockets in fish with sambal.


6. Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Deep fry fish until cooked (about 4-5 minutes), flipping it when one side turns brown. Continue frying until the whole fish is brown. Transfer cooked fish to a plate lined with banana leaf (optional). Let fish cool down.

7.  Serve immediately. Squeeze calamansi lime over fish. Eat with more sambal, if desired.


TIP:  Buy medium-sized fish each weighing between 180 and 200 grams. Cencaru is ideal as its meat is more compact compared with other small fish. After frying, the body remains firm and the meat does not break up so easily.

TECHNIQUE:  To ensure fish does not stick to wok or saucepan while frying, reduce heat to medium. Let fish continue frying until brown. High heat causes the delicate fish skin to break up easily.

Jason Chai is head chef of Makan Nyonya café in Ipoh, Malaysia which serves Peranakan food. House specialities like Chicken Rendang and Nasi Lemak are from his mother’s recipe library.

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