Tilapia Baked in Coconut Sambal

Tilapia Baked in Coconut Sambal


Coconut with Tilapia is a marriage made in heaven that works in so many forms. Tilapia is a gentle fish, and coconut is similarly creamy and gentle enough to accentuate the fish. In this recipe, the tilapia is baked in all natural banana leaves that will keep the fish moist and seal in the flavors. This sort of cooking technique is popular amongst the Nyonya community of Malacca,  an inter-marriage between Chinese and Malay cultures. As such, you will see ingredients like sambal olek, candlenuts, lime leaves and delicate palm sugar used to create the foundation flavors. I have taught this dish at several of my cooking classes and of the hundreds of recipes they learned, most people who tried this dish remarked that it is so addictive that they could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can substitute Tilapia with black ling cod. It is best used as part of a Malaysian meal, the perfect side dish to serve with other dishes like nasi lemak or coconut rice.

Serves 4


8 pods of fresh garlic, peeled

4 tablespoons ground chili paste or sambal olek

2 candlenuts or macadamia nuts

6 tablespoons peanut oil

1 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons fish sauce

4 tablespoons palm sugar

4 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced

4 Steaks of tilapia or any white fish, skinned and boned

Banana Leaves of Parchment Paper

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  1. Prepare the spice paste by grinding the garlic, chili paste and candlenuts in a mini food processor until very smooth, adding a little water if needed to keep the blades moving. Set aside.
  1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add ground spice mixture and allow it to cook, stirring frequently for 10 minutes until the oil separates on the surface. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, palm sugar and kaffir lime leaves, and continue stirring to cook the chili mixture (sambal) for another 10 minutes until the oils separate on the surface again; this indicates the spice mixture is now cooked. Taste, add more palm sugar if you like your sambal mixture sweet or more fish sauce if you prefer it salty. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  1. Gently heat the banana leaf over medium flame for a few seconds just to warm it up so the leaf would not tear when you are using it as a wrapper, or use a parchment paper instead. Place each fish on individual banana leaf cut big enough to hold in the fish or parchment if using. Drizzle the cooked chili mixture generously over the fish, then bring the leaves to the center and overlap so the fish is sealed. Tuck the side in or secure the sides with a toothpick. Place each parcel of fish on a baking tray and bake the fish for approximately 25 minutes. Serve immediately.


Tilapia Baked Coconut Sambal Image