I love going to markets, and in London, I'm often the happiest and most relaxed trawling markets or managing the farmers' market on weekends. In Singapore, the markets aren't exactly the peaceful antidote to a stressful week though, in fact, it's often a tense buzz of activity, with aunties set on getting the best bargain, and the place is wet (hence called 'wet' market), chaotic and according to my sister, fishy-smelling. I still like it though. I think my love for fresh produce (especially the aforementioned 'smelly' fish) makes up for all the grunge.
Among the prized snappers and other-fishes-I-cannot-name, I spied a ray wing. Stingray is cheap as chips because no one seems to want it*, in fact it's usually the unwanted fish that a fisherman curses his luck for catching, but its price increases exponentially once it's made into the Singapore hawker favourite--barbecued sambal stingray on banana leaves. The obvious budget solution will be to do it at home. I found a brilliant makansutra demonstration on doing this easily at home, sans charcoal grill. How can I resist? I even have the banana tree in my garden, ready for me to strip its leaves off.
Grilled Sambal Stingray on Banana Leaf
check kitchen tigress' oven-baked method for a neater alternative
1 medium ray wing (to get rid of any ammonia odour, if any, soak in acidulated water a few hours before cooking)
4 tbsp of sambal tumis chilli
3 A4-paper size banana leaves (soak in hot water, then dry off)
2 tbsp of groundnut oil/unrefined palm oil/coconut oil
For the dressing
(adjust amounts according to your own preference!)
1-2 red chillies, chopped finely
1-2 shallots, chopped finely (reserve some, sliced, for garnish)
2 tbsp lime juice (preferably calamansi lime)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp unrefined cane sugar
1. Rub ray wing generously with sea salt, set aside, rinse, pat dry. Smear skin side of wing with 1 tbsp of sambal tumis.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of oil over medium-high heat. Place banana leaf on pan, let sizzle, and then place the ray wing on it, skin-side down. Let it fry for a min or so, then cover for about 5-7 min.
A peek under the ray wing- delightful sight of scorched sambal on charred banana leaves
3. Take out the stingray with the charred banana leaf, smear the other side with 1 tbsp sambal. Flip the ray wing onto a new banana leaf, now skin-side is up, i.e. sambal-smeared side is always down.
4. Add 1 tbsp of oil to the hot pan again, and slide the banana leaf with the stingray on it. Cover to cook for another 4-5 min or so, till just barely cooked (it'll continue cooking off the heat).
5. Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining the ingredients. Taste and adjust to your own preference!
6. Remove, serve on a new banana leaf (or the charred one for more visual effect, mine was too burnt and crackly), with an extra 2 tbsp of sambal spooned over, sliced shallots, and a squeeze of lime juice, plus the dressing.
Of course, you miss that smoky aroma from the traditional charcoal grill, but you still get a more than pretty good result from the charred banana leaves- fragrant spicy grilled fish topped with the most important sambal tumis chilli of course, and a sweet and sour dressing.
Stingray has really fine, delicate flesh that comes away from the bone with no fuss at all, and in fact I like to eat the calcium-rich soft bones (or rather, cartilage) too, the same way I dig beef tendons. It's especially delicious when it's hot straight from the grill (ok pan), the succulent flesh dripping with belachan chilli, followed by the sharp zesty punch from the lime juice and shallots.
*No one seems to want it, but stingrays and skates are actually on the Greenpeace list of non-sustainable fishes. I was really shocked to read that, especially since the cheap unpopular low-mercury fishes are usually the more sustainable options.
From the River Cottage Fish Book: "The 4 true skate that are present in the UK waters- the common, long-nose, black and white- are all assessed as critically endangered. So no one should be going anywhere near them with fishing net, let alone a knife and fork. As for the ten or so species of rays that are caught around our shores and are actually the 'skate' we eat, most are deemed to be at least near-threatened species." The problem is that skate and rays are slow-growing and don't produce many off-spring. They're also often caught by bottom trawling which impacts the seabed. I'm hoping this stingray that I've got, being local, is at least caught by the traditional spear-fishing technique..
Anyhow, this recipe can be duplicated using other fishes, and often small sardine-like fishes are also grilled whole in a similar way, on banana leaves with sambal chilli, so please don't disregard this super fish dish!