Monday, 12 September 2011

Grilled Sambal Stingray on Banana Leaf

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
serves 2-4
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)
sea salt
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!


  1. I think this is what we call here skate wing. I've cooked it a number of times. We love it.

  2. Oh yum - one of my favourite Malaysian/Singaporean dishes! And it works with lots of different fishes too!

  3. That's how we usually grill fish in the Philippines, wrapped in banana leaves! I really love the fragrance that the banana leaves adds to the fish! With the dressing you made, I'm sure grilled fish will be extra yummy!

  4. This is awesome. I was looking for a curry stingray recipe, & now I found it here. I will try to get the banana leaves & try out your recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Are you serious saying that ray is cheap? It's far from being the cheapest fish in Switzerland or France! However, I buy it when it's in season because I love ray.... I always cook it the French traditional way (simmering in almost boiling seasoned water, etc....), but next time I'll try your sambal and grilling it. It looks irresistibly good!
    Banana leaves are strangely very easy to get in Asian shops here, so I'm ready and waiting for the ray/skate season!

    1. it's sooo expensive: it's 52 euro per kilo in the netherlands!!

  6. That fish dish looks amazing! Really flavorful. A pity fish is so expensive here in Switzerland... I'd be eating more of it.



  7. stephen: i think so, although they most likely are rays!

    su-lin: yes, and with squid and everything! love bbq seafood!

    tina: I realise singaporean,malaysian dishes have loads in common with pinoy dishes! esp our love for sambal chilli!

    wendy: yes, a lot more convenient than setting up a bbq and fanning at charcoal!

    i-lostinausten: great, check out the makan sutra video too!

    sissi: yes it is, in Singapore at least. It's funny also, because I seem to remember ray wings being quite prized in london.. glad you're trying to eat in season! though the sustainability issue is nagging at me too.. ):

    rosa: you can probably try this with the cheaper fishes, I bet it'd be great with mackerel!

  8. That ray fish sounds incredible - would love to try this for a change. Wonder if I could use another fish, as it is so expensive here and see you mention mackerel. I love the idea of serving on a banana leaf. Changes everything! Looks so tasty.

  9. Aah, you know, I think I bought some of this fish once and remember being so enraged when it defrosted (it was a sack full of frozen pieces) because it seemed like it was all bone. The pieces which I could get did come away easily though and the taste definitely wasn't bad. I can imagine if I could get my hands on some fresh stuff this would probably be a lot of fun to try - beautiful pictures and great sounding recipe :) - I'll let you know if I can find some ray :)

  10. That looks SO good. I love the look of skate, it's so interesting! I don't think I've actually tried it before though, I'll have to take a trip to the fish market :)

  11. I love grilled stingray! This look so tasty!

  12. Whoaaaa Mama, this looks A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!
    You're one gifted lady :)


  13. jill: thanks! yes, do try mackerel, and really, I think you could probably try this with most fishes that take your fancy! they even do this with squid etc here!

    charles: I've never tried it frozen before, but I'm sorry it was a bad experience for you ): fresh ray is so delicate and succulent though I may try to eat less of it now that I know it's endangered):

    phoenix: thanks! it is quite a special fish, really flat and not meaty, but especially soft and fine, and really convenient to eat, no bones to pick out!

    ah tze: thanks! singapoeran favourite ;)

    emily: thanks emilyyyy!

  14. really impressed with this!! now i know we can grill the meat on top of a banana leaf in the pan.

  15. Mind if I invite myself over :-)
    Looks great and sounds easy. Gonna make tis! :-D

  16. I have not eaten stingray for a while and I have not seen it sold in the markets here. The dressing sounds fantastic though and will be good on most kinds of fish out there.

  17. YUM YUM! Love the pictures! :) Do the sambal stingray justice! :)

  18. That looks awesome! Wow I miss eating this... too bad I can't get stingray where I am :p Love your kind of food :)

  19. Hi, I love your recipe here but please you tell me where to buy the stingray here in London? Or if you know of a place in North London? Greatly appreciate your help as i really miss this dish....Thank You

    1. You can find stingray/skate at most fishmongers, I've seen them at Pimlico farmer's market where I work every saturday morning, but it's not always there. Also, if you go to brixton market, there's lots of fish stalls there selling a huge array of fishes! All these are based in SE london though, as I live there, not too sure about north london. Failing all that, try Billingsgate fish market though you'd have to wake up VERY early for that. I would however just try it with mackerel or some other fish that's so cheap, delicious at the same time, and more sustainable, good luck x

  20. i just want to give your recipe a try right now, wish me luck my friend....

  21. Nice written!! I have been a big fan of your blogs. thanks best fishing line

  22. Hi Shu han This Grilled sambal is very delicious thanks for posting this Xoxo :))

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  23. Thanks for your recipe. I will try this dish with my Philips airfryer.

  24. Clear, informative, simple. Love your post!

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  26. Hello Shu Han,
    This is a very nice post. Grilled Sambal Stingray on Banana Leaf is a very delicious food. Thank you for the ingredients and recipe you share. Hope your next recipe will published soon.

  27. Always post awesome recipes,thanks for your article.