Ikan Gerang Asam is one of the first Peranakan dishes, or what is known to the babas and nyonyas as “laok embok” I’d “learnt” to cook when I was young, after getting to know the tricks to frying sunny sideups with runny yolks and crispy edges for telor tempra and braising tauyew bak until the collagen-packed babi sam cham become wobbly soft that is. “Cooking lessons” were never formal or formative, save for the times when I was taught how to use a “pisoh chye toh” , a Chinese cleaver that is, to do a wondrous list of things with it, to potong, to iris, to bukak, to persiang, to kupair a wide variety of ingredients. Otherwise it was always learning through observing how my mum and grandma worked around the kitchen while helping out with the tasks along the way and of course tasting the yummy dishes they’d prepared. And it was the same with “learning” to cook Ikan Gerang Asam”…
Most rendangs that I know of are cooked with beef or mutton. Chunks of meat which have been thoroughly cooked through and through from the prolonged simmering to make the meat so tender that it just flakes and crumbles with the slightest pressure from the fork, they are the kind of rendangs which I enjoy tremendously. Chicken rendang, well… I am a bit “iffy” about this. While I love chicken dishes generally, I feel that poultry doesn’t really do full justice to the rich and exuberant sauce concocted through the melange of spices used. I prefer them in curries. Same as rendangs you would say? Though subtle, there are still underlying differences between the two.
I was searching for a fish recipe for Perak when I came across one which uses stingray. Well done, since it is one of my favorite fish! But what I read next struck me as being really weird! Stingray in a rendang, surely that is unheard of! Then again, stingray does have a much more robust texture than other fish varieties so it might just work… Well, only one way to find out!
We cook asam fish all the time at home. In fact, whenever the belimbing trees are laden with fruits, those few days are asam fish days. For us at home, Ikan Gerang Asam is the default way of cooking asam fish. But of course there are geographical variations to how asam fish is cooked. Ikan Gerang Asam, the Melakan peranakan of preparation depends heavily on the use of daun limau purut (kaffir lime leaves) amidst other fresh ingredients like lengkwas (galangal ginger) to work up the aromatics! And that most certainly helped to work up an appetite! When I was preparing Laksa Belut Perlis, the famous eel laksa from the most northern Malaysian state in the Peninsula, all the rempah (blended ingredients) were basically boiled together with the broth base without any sautéing. But yet, it was still very delicious. And this month’s MFF brings me down all the way to the far south, to the bordering state of Johor for Ikan Pari Asam Pedas.