Aromatic Grilled Stingray with Sambal | Ikan Pari Sambal Bakar
Fresh stingray is just a joy to cook. It is tender yet firm, with a slight sweetness that goes so well with rich, creamy sambal, or chilli paste. This Malaysian-Portuguese dish is very fragrant and so flavourful, it goes so well with rice. Grilled Stingray with Sambal, otherwise known as Ikan Pari Sambal Bakar is perfect for a special occasion.
Grilled Stingray with Sambal Recipe
Preparing the Ingredients
As usual, we start by assembling the ingredients. As this dish is made completely from scratch, aside from the stingray and salt, we will also need fresh chillies, blended chillies, garlic, onions, tamarind juice, shrimp paste, palm sugar, amongst others for the sambal, or chilli paste.
The spiciness can be controlled by the type of chillies used in the dried chilli paste. Guajillo peppers are perfect for their bright red colour and sweet flavour. If slightly more heat is needed, add in the desired amount of red bird’s eye chillies.
Marinate the Stingray Pieces
Only a little salt is needed – this helps season the fish so that its flavour can be more pronounced, especially since the chilli paste sauce is very flavourful. The longer the stingray is marinated, the more the salt is absorbed by the fish. For me, I like to season the fish just before starting to allow it to rest at least 30 minutes before cooking. This gives enough time for the salt to be absorbed so its flavour permeates the stingray’s flesh. Let it rest in the fridge to keep it chilled and slow down the deterioration rate.
While stingray is just perfect for this dish, other types of fresh white fish can be used as a substitution as well.
Cooking the Chilli Paste
For the chilli paste, you want to chop up the ingredients according to the density in order to easily blend them. For example, large pieces are sufficient with chillies and onions, while the lemongrass pieces should be chopped a little finer as they are very fibrous. Candlenuts can be added to the blender as-is.
Rinse the dried shrimps in hot water to remove the impurities and other surface chemicals before adding them to the blender. The hot water helps to soften them as well.
Lastly, add the shrimp paste, dried chilli paste, tamarind water, sugar and salt into the blender. You want to ensure that the soft and easily blended ingredients are at the top because the more fibrous ingredients need more blending to achieve a smoother, well-blended sambal.
Blend until well-combined and very smooth. It is okay for some fine lumps to be present as they will provide texture to the sauce later.
Once done, switch off the blender. Add 3 tablespoons of cooking oil to a pan over medium-high heat. While the oil is still cool, pour the blender’s contents into the pan. You want to do this because massive oil splashes will happen if the oil is still hot, as the sambal paste contains a lot of liquid.
Keep stirring the sambal paste for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until a very lovely aroma of cooked herbs and spices are released. At that point, the sambal will come to a rolling boil. Taste the sambal, taking care not to burn yourself. The rich, spicy and sour flavours are now starting to come together. Add in the paste sugar, or gula melaka to soften the flavours and introduce a depth of rich taste and a mild sweetness. If it is not available, brown sugar works as a substitute as well.
Continuously stir until a lot of liquid has evaporated and it has thickened to the point that it keeps its shape when forming ribbons on the sambal. This usually takes around 15 minutes or so. While stirring, be careful of the splashes that can happen. Try not to allow the sambal paste to be stationary, as the heat tend to rise quickly and cause splatters on its surface. Once done, switch off the heat and allow the sambal to cool.
Assembling the Stingray and Sambal
You want to ensure that the stingray and sambal wrapping is leak-proof because the sambal can escape while it is being cooked. In addition, you want to remove the stems from the banana leaves because they can easily puncture the aluminium wrapping.
Roughly measure and cut 2 sheets of the banana leaf such that, the leaves’ width are 2-inches wider than the stingray’s. This is to comfortably encase it together with a generous helping of the cooked sambal paste.
Then, cut a sheet of food-grade aluminium foil with a margin of 2-inches all around the banana leaves, followed up by another sheet with a margin of 4-inches around the leaf.
Now we have a big aluminium foil, a small aluminium foil, 2 banana leaves, the stingray and the cooked sambal for assembling!
Layer one banana leaf, glossy side down, in the middle of the small aluminium foil, and place the small foil in the middle of the big one. Spread a generous helping of the sambal on the banana leaf. This will be the “bed” of the stingray while it grills.
Place the stingray on the sambal. Cover it with an even, but generous coating of sambal. You want to cover all the stingray sides to seal in its flavours as it is grilling. Optionally, top the sambal with cut, fresh red chillies and onions.
When you’re ready to close it, place the second banana leaf, glossy side up, over the sambal, chillies and onions. Carefully wrap them with the small aluminium foil, before tightly securing it with the big foil to ensure none of the sambal or liquid can escape.
Line the counter with a sheet of aluminium foil that is large enough to wrap around a stingray piece and a generous coating of the sambal. Top it with a sheet of clean and dried banana leaf for a lovely fragrance and reduced mess. Add a generous helping of sambal onto the banana leaf, and arrange the stingray on top of it.
It’s Time to Grill
Heat the grilling pan to medium and lightly coat the surface with oil. This is to prevent burning if the liquid seeps out onto the pan’s surface. Carefully place the wrapped stingrays onto the pan. Cover the pan with the lid and allow to grill for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, one side is done. At this point, the stingray and the sambal will start to sizzle within the aluminium foil. Using wooden turners, or silicone encased food tongs, carefully flip the stingrays to the other side. Cover the pan and continue to grill for 10 minutes on low heat. You want to grill this on low heat to allow the stingray to absorb the fragrance and flavour of the sambal, while slowly giving that smoky flavour and aroma to the banana leaf layer.
After 10 minutes are up, carefully turn the stingray again and let it cook for 3 minutes on low heat. After the 3 minutes are up, allow them to rest in the grilling pan for another 10 to 15 minutes. You want to do this because the residual heat continues to cook them, softening the bones and allowing the juices from the stingray to combine with the sambal.
Serving the Dish
Once the resting time is up, serve the grilled stingray on a large plate. This is the most exciting part. Carefully unwrap the aluminium foil, and take in all of that lovely fragrance of grilled sambal paste and cooked fish in banana leaves.
Mmmmmm… so fragrant, so juicy and so tender. The sambal is creamy and slightly spicy, with hints of sourness and sweetness from the Gula Melaka. The stingray is soft and sweet, perfectly matched with the flavourful sauce. For an added tanginess and mild sweetness, squeeze some calamansi juice over the sambal and stingray, and serve with plain, white rice. So good!
This dish is best served while still warm, and consumed fresh, as with all seafood dishes. It’s so aromatic and delicious, there will be no leftovers to worry about. Happy cooking 😉
Grilled Stingray with Chilli Paste
- Grilling pan
- Aluminium Foil
- Food Processor
- Sharp Kitchen Knife
- Chopping Board
- Banana leaf
- 2 pieces stingray, fresh
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 red chilli
- 2 pieces candlenuts, buah keras
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 1 red onion, small
- 4 cloves garlic, skinned
- 1 nub ginger, skinned
- 1 nub turmeric, skinned
- 5 shallots, skinned
- 1 tbsp dried shrimp
- 1 tsp shrimp paste, mild belacan
- ½ cup dried chilli paste
- ½ cup tamarind water
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp palm sugar, gula melaka
- 3 tbsp cooking oil
Grilling the fish
- 5 tbsp cooking oil
- aluminium foil, to wrap the stingray
- banana leaves, to wrap the stingray
- 1 calamansi lime, seeds removed
- 1 red chilli, chopped
- 1 red onion, medium, sliced
- Marinate the stingray with salt. Leave in the fridge while preparing the fish.
- Cut the chilli to small pieces. Add to a clean food processor.
- Crush the candlenuts. Add to the food processor.
- Roughly chop the lemongrass, red onions, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and shallots. Add to the food processor.
- Rinse the dry shrimp with hot water. Add to the food processor.
- Add the shrimp paste, chilli paste, tamarind water, sugar and salt to the food processor.
- Blend all the ingredients until smooth. Empty to a clean bowl.
Cooking the Paste
- Over medium heat, heat cooking oil in a saute pan.
- Add the sambal into the pan. Fry until the paste has released its aroma, for about 3-5 minutes.
- Taste the paste while it is in a rolling boil. It should be rich and flavourful.
- Add the paste sugar/gula melaka and stir until combined.
- Continue to stir until the paste reaches a consistency that forms ribbons when the paste is stirred.
- Turn off the heat and allow to cool.
- Transfer the sambal paste into a clean bowl.
- Remove the stem from the banana leaf. Cut the banana leaf so that the pieces measures about the same length and is 2 inches wider than the width of the stingray.
- Cut 2 sheets of aluminium foil so that it has 2 inches of space around the banana leaf to encase it.
- Cut another 2 sheets of aluminium foil so that it has another 2 inches of space length-wise on both sides of the inner aluminium foil.
- Layer the smaller aluminium foil over the bigger one. Place the banana leaf, glossy side down.
- Place a generous helping of the chilli paste onto the banana leaf, spreading over the estimated area of where the stingray rests.
- Place the stingray on the chilli paste. Add more chilli paste onto the stingray, evenly coating all sides of it.
- Top the stingray with cut red chilli and red onions.
- Place another banana leaf on the top of the stingray, glossy-side up. Carefully wrap the stingray with the top banana leaf and the smaller aluminium foil.
- Secure the wrapped stingray with the outer aluminium foil, so that the liquid does not leak out.
Grilling the Fish
- Over medium heat, add the cooking oil to the grilling pan. Ensure the oil coats the surface of the pan.
- Place the wrapped stingray in aluminium foil in the pan. Cover with lid and allow to grill for 15 minutes.
- Using wooden spatulas, carefully flip the wrapped stingray to grill the other side. Add another 2 tbsp of cooking oil.
- Reduce the heat to low. Cover with lid and allow to grill for 10 minutes.
- Flip the stingray one more time. Cover with lid and allow to grill for 3 minutes.
- Once done, turn off the heat. Allow the fish to continue cooking for another 10 – 15 minutes.
- Over a large plate, carefully unwrap the foil and banana leaf.
- Squeeze calamansi lime over the stingray. Serve with a plate of rice.