Salted Fish with Chili

Another of our famous sambal dish. Sambal dish is part of main course in Southeast Asian countries, with chili base paste stir-fry to fragrant before adding the other main ingredients. They can be vegetable or seafood. One of my favorites is salted fish. Also known as Sambal Ikan Asin or Salted Fish with Chili.

Salted fish is one of those love-it or hate-it. It slightly stinks. It has to be eaten with steamed rice. The smell is either delicious to those who are familiar or stink as hell to those who are new. I am in the first group. We love our salted stinky fish. Our Indonesian way of preparing it is deep-fried and cooked with chili paste. This is one of my mother’s favorite way of cooking salted fish.

It stunk up the whole house, and possibly the street where we lived. But we had so much fun eating it with steamed rice!

Prepare the usual sambal (chili paste) ingredients by method of grinding using mortar and pestle or electric grinder. This time we use red chili, shallots, garlic. Either coarse paste or fine paste is fine and really depends on individual preferences. I like coarse chili paste, as it has certain interesting texture whilst burning my tongue, plus it is prettier to photograph. Also, if you can’t take spicy food, but would like to attempt this recipe, please remove seeds of chilies before grinding.

We use the big salted fish with thick meat. Soak them for half an hour or so to get rid of excess salt. And some other fishy stuff they use to dry the fish. Cut them into medium-sized slices.

Deep-fry salted fish, until dry and thoroughly cooked and nicely browned. Prepare some tomatoes. This is used in place of tamarind juice. Use either one of the sourish agent. Don’t use both.

Stir-fry chili paste with oil on a hot wok. When the paste first made contact with the hot oil, the smoke coming out of the wok will be extremely spicy! Everybody who stands within 5 meters of radius will be sneezing. That is a given, with frying any sambal (chili paste) in Indonesian cuisine.

Stir-fry chili paste till it turn slightly dark and the smoke subsides. Tossing and turning the spatula to get the paste to cook evenly.

Add chopped tomatoes into the wok. Soak the tamarind pulp with some water, discard of the pulp and seeds. Add the juice into the wok.

Lower heat to a simmer.

Toss in salted fish. Cook for a while over low heat.

Then you are done. Serve it with some steamed rice and steamed vegetables.


Salted Fish with Chili, Sambal Goreng Ikan Asin

Makes 2-4 servings


3 shallots

4 garlic cloves

20 red chilies, seeded

1 tbsp tamarind pulp, diluted with 250 g warm water
1 tomato, chopped

100 g salted fish

1/4 cup cooking oil, for deep-frying fish and more for stir-frying spice paste


Grind shallots, garlic and red chilies in mortar and pestle to coarse paste. Set aside for later use.

Soak salted fish in water for 15-30 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towel. Deep-fry with hot oil till dry and crunchy.

Heat more oil on wok. Stir-fry chili paste for 2 minutes until fragrant.

Add tamarind juice from the pulp and tomatoes into the wok. Lower heat and cook till the sauce boils.
Toss in salted fish. Mix well for a couple of minutes.
Remove from heat and serve with warm rice.

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14 Responses to “Salted Fish with Chili”

  1. 1

    pigpigscorner — December 16, 2010 @ 5:39 am

    stinky but oh so delicious!

    • Jun replied: — December 26th, 2010 @ 9:46 am

      I couldn’t agree more!

  2. 2

    LaToya S. — December 16, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    I just found your blog and will definitely be following it. You make the kind of food that I LOVE. Fresh ingredients with a wide variety of seasonings and spices… shallots, garlic, lemongrass, coconut milk…yes, this is right up my alley.

    Everything looks delicious. It’s kinda hard to find Indonesian cookbooks, or even recipes online. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from your blog. :)

    • Jun replied: — December 26th, 2010 @ 9:47 am

      Thank you so much for visiting! I have had the exact same problem as yours. The rarity of true Indonesian cooking books and blogs. Even the books are written by non-Indonesians and that is just too weird. :D

  3. 3

    Marysol — December 17, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

    What is it about tamarind and chili (and any dish you blog about) that makes my mouth water? That looks delicious!

    You know, I’ve had tamarind sitting in my pantry since forever, maybe even longer, and I can’t wait to use it in this recipe. All I need to get is salted fish—which I haven’t had since I was a kid.

    • Jun replied: — December 26th, 2010 @ 9:48 am

      I love those too! I can totally fool everybody by saying that I love hummus and blue cheese, but salted fish is the one that makes me tingles inside! LOL

  4. 4

    thoma — December 17, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

    hi Jun! i’m yet to scour your latest entries and now am taking my Christmas break. i’ll log in only after my break.

    merry Christmas! have a good time.

    • Jun replied: — December 26th, 2010 @ 9:59 am

      Happy holidays, Thoma. My first to do list is your toffee sauce!

  5. 5

    Suzanne — December 17, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

    wow, that picture is beautiful and the recipes sounds wonderful. I love hot and spicy things but my family can’t take the heat!

    • Jun replied: — December 26th, 2010 @ 10:00 am

      You can use less chili and add more tomatoes. :)

  6. 6

    Sharron Clemons — December 21, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

    wow, that picture is beautiful and the recipes sounds wonderful. I love hot and spicy things but my family can’t take the heat!

  7. 7

    Ecky — December 27, 2010 @ 1:44 am

    Oh salted fish is one of my fave food, but my husband couldn’t stand the smell so I have to cook it everytime he’s not home. But I will def try this recipe.

  8. 8

    Judy — January 2, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

    I love this, and the fried egg with chili recipe. I wonder if I can use this chilli paste to cook mee goreng as well? Most recipes I have searched don’t use chilli paste at all but my friend’s mom does a true blue, mean ass mee goreng which uses home made chilli paste.

  9. 9

    Celine — February 28, 2011 @ 12:46 am

    I tried your recepi today… tasty..bring back the memory with my mom dish..thank`s for sharing this recepi.. :)

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