Updated: Mar 15, 2020
Ikan Bali is one of my favorite Indonesian fish dishes. Although a lot of people associate Indonesian cuisine with meat and vegetable dishes, the coastal area's of Indonesia's islands are famous for their fish dishes.
Ikan Bakar for example, is a famous Indonesian grilled fish dish and Malaysians love this dish too. Grilling fish is actually one of the oldest and earliest cooking methods to prepare fish. The fish, freshwater or seafood, is usually marinated in a mixture of sweet soy sauce and coconut oil applied with a brush during grilling. The spice mixture usually consists of a combination of shallots, garlic, chilies, coriander, tamarind, candlenuts, turmeric, galangal and trassi shrimp paste. Find out more about these key ingredients in one of my previous posts.
Ikan Bali is a traditional Indonesian fish dish as well, although it is more modern than Ikan Bakar. Instead of grilling the Ikan Bali is fried in a wok (wadjan). Using a regular frying pan is also fine of course!
Mackerel and herring are among my favorite fishes and they are abundantly available here in Holland. If you can't find fresh mackerel - don't use the smoked ones - another sturdy white fish like cod will do the job too. I prefer buying my fish at a fishmonger because you can't get a fresher piece of fish, except when you eat it on a fishing boat right after it's caught. I wouldn't recommend buying supermarket fish but if you have no other (fresh) option it's ok.
Nice thing about fishmongers - I prefer Vishandel Tel at Nieuwmarkt area - is that they prepare the fish any way you want. They remove the head, intestines and fish bones within a minute while you are waiting and voila, you have fresh fish fillets.
For my version of Ikan Bali I use 2 mackerels (4 fillets), 1 onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1 lemongrass stalk, 3 Kaffir lime leaves, 2 teaspoons Sambal Kecap, 2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce Kecap Manis, 2 teaspoons caster sugar and 1 teaspoon trassi shrimp paste.
To cook Ikan Bali first make the bumbu spice paste. Cut onion and garlic roughly and combine in a food processor with sambal (preferably Sambal Kecap), sweet soy sauce Kecap Manis, trassi shrimp paste and sugar until a creamy paste has formed (bumbu).
Next step is to heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use peanut oil) in a large frying pan. Pat the fish dry with kitchen paper and fry the fish brown on both sides for a couple of minutes until its slightly cooked. Remove fish and set aside.
Because mackerel is a fatty fish with lots of Omega-3 fatty acids (very healthy!) there is usually enough fat left in the pan when removing the mackerel fillets after frying. If not, add some more oil to the pan, add the bumbu spice paste together with the bruised lemongrass stalk, torn Kaffir lime leaves and fry until fragrant for a couple of minutes.
Carefully add mackerel fillets - you don't want them to fall apart - skin-side up to the fried bumbu spice paste and fry for 2 more minutes. If the spice paste is too thick make sure to add a few splashes of water to avoid burning.
Spoon some of the bumbu spice paste on the mackerel's skin. Give the pan a couple of shakes to mix the fluids. Put the lid on the pan and simmer for around 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the mackerel fillets.
Remove the mackerel fillets carefully from the pan. Remove lemongrass and Kaffir lime leaves. Transfer to a plate and spoon some of the leftover mixture from the pan on top of the mackerel fillets. Top with fried onions or shallots and some shredded Kaffir lime leaves (remove veins first) and serve with Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Acar Ketimun (pickled cucumber) and Sambal Kecap. Selamat makan (enjoy)!
Ingredients for 4 people:
4 mackerel fillets (or another sturdy white fish)
1 big onion
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons sambal, preferably sambal kecap
2 tablespoons kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1 teaspoon palm sugar or caster sugar
3 kaffir lime leaves, torn
1 lemongrass stalk bruised
1 teaspoon trassi (shrimp paste)
4 tablespoons coconut oil
Cut onion and garlic roughly. Combine in a food processor with sambal (kecap), kecap manis, sugar and trassi until it’s a creamy paste (bumbu).
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan. Pat the fish dry with kitchen paper and fry the fish brown on both sides for a couple of minutes. Remove fish and set aside.
Add remaining oil into previously used pan and fry the bumbu spice paste together with the bruised lemongrass stalk and torn Kaffir lime leaves for a couple of minutes until fragrant.
Add mackerel fillets and fry for 2 more minutes.
Put the lid on the pan and simmer 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the mackerel fillets. Add a little splash of water if necessary (to avoid burning).