Lemongrass Sambal Fish

Lemongrass Sambal Fish may sound complicated, though it is anything BUT complicated. A simple recipe for anyone who isn’t afraid of a little deep-frying action!

I was in Malacca not too long ago where I had a fried fish, with Sambal Tumis. Sambal Tumis is a type of very spicy chilli paste that adorns the fish, making it just irresistible. This dish I have prepared here is similar to the one from Malacca. However, I have never made Sambal Tumis at home and nor do I want to. At least, not today.

This recipe was a journey of discovery for me. And here’s why: I had never been to the fishmonger on my own. And, I had never made lemongrass sambal before.

How to buy fish

I will still say that the most fool-proof way of buying fish is to go to the shop with your mum or dad or someone with experience in buying fish. That way, you won’t really get cheated. But if you don’t have a professional ‘market-person’ at your disposal, like me when I wanted to make this, then these tips might help.

When buying fish, check the gills, the eyes and the flesh. The gills should be rich and red, not pink. A red and bloody gill area means the fish is fresh from the sea. Anything less than that denotes a fish that has been dead for a while. Not ideal in curries, or for anything really.

Check the eyes. Freshly caught fish will have clear, bulbous eyes. If the eye on either side looks pale, cloudy, misty or flat, move on. As for the flesh, you’re gonna have to poke the fish. Not so much that you hurt your finger – but just a general prod. The indent you make on the fish should bounce back. If it doesn’t then I’m sorry but that fish is all soft and mushy on the inside (and not in a good way).

The Sambal

You can use pretty much any sambal that you fancy here. Just fry the fish and then lusciously pour out the sambal gravy over it. I made this lemongrass sambal as I have developed a weird mood for lemongrass in my life recently. The scent of lemongrass just wakes me up and this sambal is filled with that.

If you’re not a fan of lemongrass, then add whatever else you may please with the chillies. I find that lime or lemon peel work great here.

Vegans and Vegetarians

The ingredients for the sambal is primarily vegetarian, with no meat or meat derivatives involved. As for the fish, you can substitute it with a whole tofu. Marinade the Tofu in the same way you would the fish, and deep fry it. You can also roast it in the oven, but remember to oil the tofu before putting it into the oven. And as always, you can use protein substitutes.

Lemongrass Sambal Fish

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4


  • 4 Mackerel Fillets, washed and cleaned
  • 1 ½ Tsp Chilli Powder
  • 1 ½ Tsp Turmeric Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 Tbsp Oil
  • 2 Lemongrass Stalks, outer skin removed and roughly chopped
  • 5 Red Chillies, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1-inch Ginger, skinned and chopped
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, peeled
  • 2 Coriander Roots, washed
  • 1 Onion, peeled and thinly sliced into half-moons


  1. Marinate the fish in the chilli and turmeric powder, oil and salt. Set aside.
  2. Place lemongrass, red chillies, ginger, garlic and coriander root into a chopper. Chop until it becomes a fine, well-blended mixture. You can add more chillies if you like, for extra heat. Alternatively, you can use a mortar and pestle. Once pulverised, set aside.
  3. In a skillet, pour enough oil to cover the base. It’s hard to indicate exactly how much oil to use. Best to go by eye, so long as the bottom of your pan is covered with oil up to a centimeter thick. Wait for the oil to get hot, then gently drop in the marinated fish fillets. Fry them on one side for about 4 to 6 minutes, then repeat on the other side. Once the fish is fully cooked and the colour of warm caramel, remove from the hot oil and place on paper towels.
  4. For the sake of convenience, clean out the skillet you used by pouring out the oil and wiping the pan clean with a paper towel. Then, pour in 2 tbsp of oil and return to heat.
  5. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Cook till they become soft and malleable, then add the sambal mixture you had prepared earlier. Proceed to cook the sambal in the oily onion mixture until the sambal starts to go from bright red to a deep, almost brownish hue. Remove from heat and ladle this sambal mix over the fried fish.
  6. Serve warm with rice.
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