Deep - fried whole fish & tofu with tomato sambal

Deep - fried whole fish & tofu with tomato sambal

Ikan cobek

Street Food Asia
4–6 As part o f a shared me al
Alan Benson

One thing I really enjoy about being in Jakarta is the sheer variety of sambals and watching people use the traditional stone mortars, or cobek, to make them by hand, and to order. It’s a simple skill but the cooks are fast and precise with it and they’re a joy to watch. Many Indonesian dishes have a specific sambal that accompanies them and the one for this dish involves lots of red chilli, tomato, shrimp paste and a little candlenut, pounded roughly together. Apart from an initial flash-frying of the chilli, nothing is cooked – it’s such a wonderful accompaniment for the fried fish, which is briefly marinated in tamarind. It’s simple but so, so fresh and that’s what I love about the stall where I buy this, where all the ingredients are perfect. When they have finished cooking the fish they want to smash it hard with the pestle to loosen all the flesh and soften up the bones and I always have to step in and say ‘Please! Don’t! Stop!’ I love picking my fish flesh off bones and they’re always amused I don’t want them to smash it up.


Quantity Ingredient
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tablespoons Tamarind water
2 x 500g whole carp, baby barramundi or perch, scaled and gutted
1 litre vegetable oil, for deep-frying
200g firm tofu, drained and cut into 5 x 2 cm squares
mint leaves, to garnish
steamed jasmine rice, to serve

Tomato sambal

Quantity Ingredient
4 large red chillies
2 red bird’s eye chillies
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon liquid palm sugar (see glossary) or shaved palm sugar (jaggery)
1/2 candlenut, (see glossary)
1 tomato, thinly sliced


  1. Mix together the salt and tamarind water in a bowl.
  2. Using a large sharp knife, make three long incisions in each of the fish sides. Place in a dish, cover with the tamarind water mixture and leave to marinate for 15 minutes.
  3. In a large wok, bring the vegetable oil to 180°C, or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil browns in 15 seconds. Brush the marinade off the fish and pat them dry with paper towels, then carefully add them to the hot oil and deep-fry for 5–7 minutes, or until just cooked and crisp. Remove and drain on paper towel.
  4. Add the tofu to the wok and deep-fry for 5 minutes, until crisp. Drain on paper towel.
  5. To make the tomato sambal, flash-fry the chillies in the same oil for 2 minutes until soft. Drain, then add to a mortar together with the shrimp paste, salt, sugar, candlenut and tomato and pound together well with a pestle to form a rough paste.
  6. Transfer the fried fish to a serving platter, spoon over the sambal and garnish with mint leaves. Serve with the fried tofu and steamed jasmine rice.
South-East Asian
Street Food
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