On the Trail of the Phoenix – Ikan Pari Kuah Lada
Ikan Pari Kuah Lada is a typical dish for everyday meals in a Peranakan household in Melaka and Singapore. It is essentially stingray cooked in a peppery sauce. The piquant flavours carried through the liberal use of white peppercorns and tamarind (asam jawa) makes the sauce (kuah) an excellent drizzling onto some piping hot steamed rice. Being spicy and tart at the same time makes it really moreish for more helpings of rice!
White peppercorns and tamarind together form an excellent palate profile for this dish which seems unique to the repertoire of Straits Chinese cooking. The peppercorns are first lightly toasted in a dry shallow saucepan before grinding to help accentuate its flavours. Having said that, using good quality peppercorns make a difference as well. The Sarawakian white peppercorns I’d used in this dish was gifted to me by Nyonya Gwen Ong.
Standard rempah ingredients for many dishes in Peranakan cuisine, which is used here for the “kuah lada“. This melange of ingredients also forms the backbone for many other Peranakan dishes such as the rempah in “gerang asam” and even for “ayam masak buah keluak“! It is through intricate nuances in some of the key ingredients used that sets one signature dish apart from the other!
Ikan Pari Kuah Lada – Stingray in Pepper and Tamarind Sauce Recipe (serves 3-4)
500-600g of stingray, cut into large chunks
2 medium eggplant or 1 large egg plant
1 generous tbsp of tamarind pulp, rubbed with 2 cups of water
3 tbsp cooking oil
salt and sugar to taste
1 tbsp white peppercorn, lightly toasted and grind freshly into fine powder
15-20 shallots (bawang merah), peeled and sliced
5 candlenuts (buah keras)
2 cloves of garlic (bawang puteh), peeled and sliced
fresh tumeric root (kunyit), thumb length, peeled and sliced
fresh galangal (lengkuas), thumblength, peeled and sliced
2 stalks of lemongrass (seray), lower 1/3 white portion only, sliced thinly
2 tsp toasted belacan powder
Pound or grind all rempah ingredients into a paste.
Cut eggplant into finger-length slices, and soak in a bowl of water added with 1/2 tsp salt. This helps to prevent the eggplant from browning.
Add cooking oil to a heated wok, followed by rempah paste.
Satue rempah paste over medium high heat until it is aromatic and the oil returns to the surface again (pecah minyak)
Add tamarind juice and bring the concoction to a boil. More water may be added at this time.
Add sliced eggplant and stingray chunks and stir slightly to combine with the kuah lada sauce.
Leave to simmer under medium-low heat until the fish is just cooked. Eggplant would have soften considerably as well.
Season with salt and a small amount of sugar to balance the flavours.
Serve with rice, together with other dishes.
NOTE: other meaty fish varieties like threadfin (ikan kurau) are also good for this dish. just that they are traditionally cooked with stingray for the much coveted sweetness in the meat. Another variation to the kuah lada is to add 1-2 red chilies to the rempah which would render the sauce spicier and a redder appeal. This seems to be popular amongst the Peranakans in Melaka.