Chef's Recipes

Pan-fried fish with vinegar sambal

A caramel-like flavour comes through in the sauce accompanying this fish. You'll want to savour every last drop over a big bowl of steamed rice.

By Tony Tan
  • 15 mins preparation
  • 20 mins cooking plus
  • Serves 4
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"This recipe is adapted from A Kristang Family Cookbook by Melba Nunis," says Tony Tan. "The secret is to cook the spice paste until it takes on a caramel-like fragrance. This dish, with its tangy sambal, is incredible with the cucumber salad. Mackerel is traditionally used, but any fish is delicious, and I use rice vinegar, which is milder than most vinegars."


  • 500 gm snapper fillets, skin on, pin-boned, cut into 5cm chunks
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 175 ml vegetable oil
  • 80 ml (⅓ cup) rice vinegar
  • 2-3 tbsp caster sugar, or to taste
  • ½ tsp dark soy sauce
  • Thinly sliced spring onion, to serve
Spice paste
  • 30 gm (about 10) dried long red chillies, coarsely cut with scissors and softened in boiling water for 10 minutes
  • 10 golden shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 7 candlenuts (see note)


  • 1
    For spice paste, drain chillies then blend with shallots and candlenuts in a food processor to a fine paste, adding a little water to loosen if required.
  • 2
    Combine fish with turmeric, chilli powder and 1 tsp salt in a large bowl, turn to coat and set aside to marinate (15 minutes).
  • 3
    Heat a wok or frying pan with 60ml oil over medium-high heat. When oil begins to shimmer, add fish, skin-side down, and cook, turning once, until skin is crisp and fish is cooked through (2-3 minutes each side; be careful, hot oil will spit). Drain on paper towels.
  • 4
    Wipe out wok with paper towels, return to medium heat and add remaining oil. When hot, add spice paste, and stir until fragrant and oil separates (8-10 minutes). Add vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and 250ml water, bring to the boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until sambal sauce is slightly thickened (2-3 minutes). Add fish and stir gently to warm through. Season to taste and serve scattered with spring onion.


Candelnuts are available from Asian grocers.
Drink suggestion: Semi-sweet riesling. Drink suggestion by Max Allen.

  • undefined: Tony Tan