Simple and spicy, there’s nothing not to love about this Malaysian classic. If you prefer, you could use an oily fish, say  mackerel or even tuna steaks. You don’t strictly need to remove the seeds from the chillies but bear in mind that if you don’t, the chilli-heat will dial up considerably.






Skill level

Average: 3.8 (17 votes)


  • 600 g jewfish, or other firm white fish fillets
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp salt
  • vegetable oil, for cooking
  • steamed rice, steamed Asian greens and lime halves, to serve


  • 16 medium dried chillies, stem ends removed
  • 1 tbsp tamarind pulp
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 150 g large brown shallots (about 4), peeled and chopped
  • 250 g ripe tomatoes (about 2), chopped
  • 2 ½ tsp shrimp paste (belacan), chopped
  • 2 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 red onion, cut into thin rings
  • 1 tbsp (firmly packed) shaved palm sugar

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Soaking time: 30 minutes

For the sambal, tear each chili in half and shake out most of the seeds. Place the chillies in a bowl, pour over enough boiling water to just cover then stand for 30 minutes or until the chillies are soft. Drain well.

Meanwhile, place the tamarind pulp in a small bowl, pour over 80 ml (⅓ cup) boiling water and stand for 20 minutes or until tamarind is soft. Strain the tamarind mixture through a sieve into a bowl, squeezing the solids with your fingers to extract as much liquid as possible - discard the solids and set the tamarind puree aside.

Drain the chilies well then combine in a food processor with the garlic, shallots, tomato, belacan and sugar. Using the pulse button, process until a coarse paste forms, stopping occasionally to scrape the mixture down.  Heat the oil in a wok over medium. Add the chilli mixture then cook, stirring often, for about 12 minutes or until the most of the liquid has reduced. Stir in the onion and sugar and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the onion has wilted and the sugar has dissolved. Add the tamarind puree, season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper then cook the sambal, stirring, for another 5 minutes or until any excess liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, use paper towels to dry the fish.

Combine the turmeric and salt in a bowl, add the fish and then rub the mixture into the fish on both sides.  Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over medium-high then add the fish. Cook for 3 minutes or until golden then turn and cook for another 3 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer to a warmed serving dish, spoon sambal over each piece of fish then serve with steamed rice, greens and lime.


Read more about sambals in Malaysia and Indonesia  and get more of  Leanne's sambal recipes here


Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Sarah O'Brien. Food preparation by Tina McLeish.