Balinese Grilled Fish

Tomato sambal and base genep

We’ve been having a few Bali cravings of late so decided to channel the barbecued fish in Jimbaran, Tanah Lot and some of those other beachside seafood warungs. Sure, they’re touristy, but there’s really something about sitting on the beach with your feet in the sand watching a Balinese sunset and smelling the fragrance of Bali wafting out from the grill.

Naturally, it’s not quite the same in South-East Queensland, although at this time of the year the humidity is definitely similar to that of a Bali night. The taste of this, though, took us back. As an added bonus, it’s really quite healthy.

The key to the Balinese flavour is in the spice mix or Base genep. This one is an excellent all-purpose paste and, despite the list of ingredients, is actually quite therapeutic to make – especially if you do so with a wine glass close by.

In a mortar and pestle grind 5 candlenuts, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, 2 cloves and ½ teaspoon sesame seeds into a powder.

At this point you can either transfer the spice powder into a food processor – I use the nutribullet – along with:

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 5 red shallots, roughly chopped
  • 3 small red chillies, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh turmeric
  • 2 stalks lemongrass – the white part only
  • 5 tablespoons chopped galangal
  • 2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • ½ teaspoon belacan or shrimp paste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Alternatively, add it all to the mortar and continue to pound it all into a smooth paste. (If you go with the food processor option you might need to add a splash of water to get it all moving about.)

Pour it into a jar until you’re ready to use it.

To prepare the fish pat dry and then slash it quite deeply with a sharp knife diagonally on both sides. Rub the spice paste over each side, making sure that you get into the slashes, and pop it back in the fridge for an hour.

I used that hour to make spicy tomato sambal that we tossed through some blanched green beans – that’s it in the pic above – and a sambal matah, a freshly chopped sambal…recipes below.

As for cooking the fish? We did it on the barbecue in one of those things made for barbecuing fish – just take care to oil it well or the yummy crunchy skin will stick to it. How long you cook it for depends on your barbecue, the weight of the fish and so many other variables. We had a medium sized snapper and grilled it for about 5 minutes on each side.

Just before it’s done, you can brush it with a glaze of ¼ cup (60 ml) kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), 2 tbsp vegetable or canola oil, and a squeeze of lime juice. This is, however, optional.

Serve with steamed rice, some green veggies – we used green beans – sambal and fresh lime.

As for the rest of the spice paste? We had used some during the week as a base for nasi goreng, and we’ll be using the rest in a chicken curry this week.

Tomato Sambal (Sambal tomat)

This recipe comes from Janet De Neefe’s Bali – “The Food Of My Island Home” – and can be used on beans, in green veggies, on boiled eggs (so yummy), stirred into mayonnaise, or spooned over other meats (hello, sausages) or seafood.

It’s also super easy in that it just gets blitzed in a food processor or blender. Speaking of which, toss in 4 long red chillies (seeded), 3 small red chillies (with seeds – less if you don’t like it spicy), 3 red shallots, 6 garlic cloves, 3 chopped tomatoes, 1tsp belacan (or shrimp paste), 4 candlenuts, sea salt to taste.

When it looks like a chunky tomato soup, heat about 80ml vegetable oil in a wok over medium heat and fry the tomato mixture until it reduces by almost half. The oil should rise to the surface.

Pop it into a jar – it will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.

Fresh Sambal (Sambal matah)

Another from De Neefe’s “Bali”, this sambal is served with pretty much everything over there. You’ll definitely find it on the plate beside your seafood in Jimbaran.

This one needs a lot of chopping, but again, a glass of wine will help the time fly.

Mix 5 finely sliced red shallots with 1 tsp of sea salt and set in a colander for an hour. This mellows the flavours of the shallots.

Rince and drain the shallots. Mix together a slice (equivalent to about 1/2 tsp of chopped belacan (shrimp paste) and 1/2 tsp sea salt until it looks like brown (smelly) sand. Add the shallots and the following ingredients:

  • 1 long red chilli – seeded and finely sliced
  • 3-4 small red chillies, finely sliced
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 tsp finely chopped lemongrass (the white part only)
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves – rolled into a tight bundle and finely shredded
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil

Mix it all together and add extra seasoning, if required.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

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