clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon

Grilled Mackerel Stuffed with Spicy Chili Paste

One of my favorite ways to enjoy fish while growing up in Georgetown on the tropical island of Penang in Malaysia was to have it grilled with some spicy sambal. The spice mixture is cooked first and then cooled before it is stuffed into side pockets cut into the fish. The fish of choice for this dish is fresh mackerel and luckily for me, frozen and thawed Norwegian mackerel is available in Asian grocery stores in Los Angeles.

This dish has roots in Malay and Chinese cuisine called Nonya cooking which was created when Chinese immigrants settled in Malaysia and inter-married with local Malays. They developed a unique fusion cuisine which combined elements of Chinese cooking with spicy Malay cooking. This Nonya cuisine was further influenced by Thai cooking in northern part of Peninsular Malaysia and influenced by Indonesian cooking in the southern part. Of course, I’m not able to get all the authentic ingredients such as candle nuts, torch ginger buds, or fermented shrimp condiment to make this dish but I’ve substituted ingredients which are readily available in US such as lemongrass, tamarind pulp, and bottled sambal olek. My US version of this Nonya recipe for grilled mackerel with spicy chili paste is aromatic, spicy, sweet, sour, and salty and will wake up your taste buds. It goes very well with steamed turmeric rice. If you ever visit Penang, this is a must try dish.

  • Total Time: 40 mins
  • Yield: 4 1x


  • 2 whole mackerel, cleaned and gutted.

Spice paste (blend in a food processor)

  • 3 tablespoons sambal olek chili paste
  • 6 shallots, peeled
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, 4 inches of the tender white part, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon SYD All Purpose rub
  • 2 tablespoon tamarind pulp (mix tamarind pulp in warm water, mix with fingers to get about 2 tablespoons of tangy pulp without seeds)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoon oil


  1. Cook the blended spice mix in a non-stick saucepan. After about 5-7 minutes or when the mix is cooked and you can smell the fragrance, remove and let cool.
  2. Clean the mackerel. Place the whole mackerel on the side and carefully make a deep parallel cut following the length of the spine. You are making a stuffing pouch on each side on the fish, Repeat on the other side.
  3. Stuff the spice mixture into the left and right pockets.
  4. Setup a grill with a hot and cool zone.
  5. Drizzle oil all over the mackerel and place onto the hot zone. When there is some char and color, flip over and char the other side. Move to the cool side once the char has been established. Be careful not to burn the mackerel. The oil that you drizzled will create a nice crispy char.
  6. Serve with some lime wedges and some turmeric rice (2 cups uncooked rice, 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 teaspoon salt). Garnish with cilantro.

  • Author: Harry Soo
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 20 mins
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: Asian