What happens if you pair a gravy that has the perfect balance of spiciness, sweetness, and sourness with fresh fish like the Kembong fish? Most probably a pot full of Asam Pedas that boasts a tangy flavour that is sure to get you hooked.
Whipped up with specific key ingredients that tickle your tastebuds, the tangy zing of this classic Malay dish will whet your appetite with its savouriness. But where did this dish come from, and how can you prepare this dish from the comforts of your own home? Before sprinting to your local fish supplier in Singapore to cook up a storm, let’s learn more about this extraordinarily satisfying dish.
What is Asam Pedas?
Literally translating to “Tamarind Spicy”, Asam Pedas is a hot and sour Malay fish curry that is commonly served with plain, white rice. Unlike other runny curries, the fish is stewed in gravy made of sour tamarind and red chilli peppers, and is paired with vegetables like okra due to their natural thickening properties. There are countless variations in the classic Asam Pedas hand-me-down recipes, but the two key ingredients – chilli and tamarind – set the base for the limitless flavour possibilities.
Though Asam Pedas is commonly made with Spanish mackerel, other types of fish species like Kembong fish and freshwater pomfret are good substitutes too. Whether you’re working with fresh or frozen seafood, and regardless of the type of fish you find yourself gravitating towards, the unique flavour profile of the gravy is enough to carry the weight of the entire dish.
Where Did Asam Pedas Come From?
The origins of Asam Pedas remain somewhat unclear. While it is undeniably a traditional Malay dish, it is believed to have come from West Sumatra, Indonesia. After making its mark as a typical cuisine amongst Malays in Sumatra, the Indonesian style fish curry slowly made its way across the shores. In Malaysia, the recipe for the dish can be traced back to the villages along the southeast coastal region. Now a popular dish in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, it is common to see variations of the recipe in the country where it is made. From different spice mixtures down to the fish used, each region has its own unique take on this sour and spicy fish stew dish.
Enjoy Delicious Asam Pedas with Kembong Fish at Home
Apart from travelling across the border or heading to a restaurant to indulge in this dish, you can create your very own appetising version of Asam Pedas in your kitchen! The classic recipe calls for basic ingredients such as shallots, garlic cloves, ginger, chilies, and tomatoes. Of course, you cannot forget the specialty ingredients that help create the signature flavour profile of the asam gravy that we’ve all come to love – lemongrass, tamarind paste, and toasted belacan (shrimp paste). This aromatic combination of ingredients, alongside the sweet, tender, and silky meat of the Kembong fish, can then be cooked using the traditional cooking method called pindang.
Pindang is known as salt-boiled fish and is a culinary technique native to Sumatra. Typically used to cook fish or egg, it is simply the boiling of ingredients in a relatively acidic base to extend the shelf of the protein. By boiling the fish in the sweet-sourish Asam Pedas gravy, the iconic citrusy and spicy accents of the ingredients will be brought to life, further complementing the natural sweetness of the Kembong fish.
Fish Alternatives to Whip Up the Dish
As mentioned, the fish most frequently used to prepare Asam Pedas are Spanish mackerel and Kembong fish. In Indonesia, mackerel tuna is the fish of choice, while in Malaysia, Spanish mackerel is the ultimate go-to – each region adapting the dish to better cater to their seasoned taste buds. As such, you can use any fish you fancy – just be sure to choose a firmer fish that is less likely to break apart while cooking. Other popular options include salmon, stingray, dory fish fillets, red snapper, tilapia fillets, and grouper steaks. For added convenience, it is also commonplace for individuals to reach out for frozen, cleaned and cut options to speed up the preparation and cooking process.
Get the Freshest Seafood Delivered to You
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