Thai Wok-Smoked Lemongrass Mullet: Delicious mullet stuffed with lemongrass, smoke-cooked with scales on to produce a full bodied smoky aroma that complements the natural sweetness of the fish.
My Thai Wok-Smoked Lemongrass Mullet recipe is inspired by my experience with Thai cuisine when my husband was stationed in Thailand for several years. During our stay in Thailand, we would often go out and order BBQ Tilapia or Sea Bass to go along with other Thai dishes that we like, including pineapple rice and tum yum talay (seafood). In Thailand, their BBQ fish is usually coated with a layer of coarse salt before it is barbecued, and the taste is simply ‘aroy mak ka’!
When we moved back to Singapore, I desperately wanted to try to replicate this dish at home, but I didn’t have a charcoal grill. So I improvised and invented my own method of cooking the fish by using my handy wok instead. To replicate the smokey effect of a charcoal grill, I used a layer of coarse salt to line the wok and then smoke cook the fish over high heat in the covered wok.
The fish I used here is Grey Mullet, also known colloquially as “Orr Her” in Hokkien. When you buy the Grey Mullet, the fishmonger will ask if you want to descale the fish, so just tell him/her not to remove the scales. In fact, it is quite common for Grey Mullet to be sold with scales on, whether it is meant for grilling or steaming. This is a peculiarity of Grey Mullet; Leaving the scales on actually helps to retain the natural sweetness and distinctive flavour of the fish.
What was the result? To my delight, the smoky ashy aroma from this method of cooking turned out to be very flavourful, and my family loved it so much. Even my son-in-law who usually doesn’t like to eat fish of any kind finds it yummy, so that makes me extra happy. This is a very healthy dish as it does not require oil and the ingredients used are of medicinal value.
Thai Wok-Smoked Lemongrass Mullet
Delicious grey mullet stuffed with lemongrass, smoke-cooked with scales on to produce a full bodied smoky aroma that complements the natural sweetness of the fish.
INGREDIENTS FOR THAI WOK-SMOKED LEMONGRASS MULLET (serves 4)
- Mullet (Large), 1
- Limau Purut Leaves, ( Thai Lime Leaves), 6-8
- Lemon Grass, 1 stalk
- Lemon, 1/2
- Garlic, 4-5 cloves
- Chilli Padi, 2
- Salt, a pinch
- Coarse Salt, 4 TBsp
- Blue Ginger, thumb size (optional)
PREPARATION FOR THAI WOK-SMOKED LEMONGRASS MULLET (15 mins)
- Clean the mullet thoroughly, removing all blood clots and innards. But please remember, do not scale the fish!
- Use a sharp knife to make 2 deep cuts inside the stomach of the mullet on either sides of the centre bone to deepen the cavity and allow the flavour of the lemongrass mixture to penetrate into the meat. Pat dry and set aside.
- Wash the lime leaves, chilli, garlic and lemon grass.
- Cut the lime leaves into thin strips.
- Slice the lemon grass and garlic diagonally into thin slices.
- Cut the chilli into small pieces.
- Place the lime leaves, lemon grass, garlic, chilli and a pinch of salt into a small bowl.
- Squeeze the lemon juice and pour it into the lime leaves mixture. Mix well.
- Stuff the lemon grass mixture into the cavity of the mullet as well as the deep slits you made earlier, until the stuffing fills up the whole cavity.
COOKING METHOD FOR THAI WOK-SMOKED LEMONGRASS MULLET (15 mins)
- In a wok, put in 2 TBsp of coarse salt and spread the salt out in a straight line, about 2″ wide (the length of the fish). Turn on the heat to high.
- Place the fish on top of the salt and press the mullet down with a spatula to flatten out the salt evenly.
- Then, cover the mullet with a wok cover and let it cook for 5 mins over high heat.
- After 5 minutes, take out the fish without removing the salt.
- Place another 2 TBsp of coarse salt in the wok similar to the previous step.
- Turn the mullet over and place it on top of the salt and press it down with a spatula. Cover the fish and cook for another 5 mins.
- Once the mullet is done, transfer it on a serving plate.
- Before serving, use the sharp knife to cut through the scale at the back of the fish. Use the knife and a fork to flip the fish skin with scale over to the belly side exposing the meat.
- After eating one side of the fish, turn the fish over and do likewise.
- You can serve this fish with Belachan Chilli, Thai Chilli Sauce or squeeze the other half of the lemon juice on the fish.
TOP TIPS FOR THAI WOK-SMOKED LEMONGRASS MULLET
- Grey Mullet is also known colloquially as “Orr Her” in Hokkien. When you buy the Grey Mullet, the fishmonger will ask if you want to descale the fish, so just tell him/her not to remove the scales. In fact, it is quite common for Grey Mullet to be sold with scales on, whether it is meant for grilling or steaming. This is a peculiarity of Grey Mullet – leaving the scales on actually helps to retain the natural sweetness and distinctive flavour of the fish.
- The heat must be turned on to high in order to smoke the fish to give it a full bodied smoky aroma. It will be slightly smokey when you are cooking the fish. But don’t panic, you actually want it to be slightly smokey as this fish is cooked via smoking.
- For this reason, is the very important to add the layer of coarse salt to the wok as it helps to prevent the skin from getting burnt during the cooking process.
- Don’t worry if the skin is a bit burnt. After all the skin in not going to be eaten.
- This method of cooking is best used for Mullet, Sea Bass and Black Tilapia. But remember not to descale the fish if you are using this method of cooking. For larger fish like Sea Bass, the cooking will be slightly longer, perhaps 1 or 2 mins longer.
- When flipping the skin over, be careful to minimise contact of the coarse salt with the fish meat, otherwise it will end up too salty.
- You can also add blue ginger strips into the lime leaves mixture.
- Do not wrap the fish with aluminium foil. By wrapping it with the foil, you will end up steaming the fish rather than smoking it, and the end result will be totally different.
Suggested Modifications for Special Diets
- Baby/Toddler-Friendly: Give toddler the tail section of the fish which is not in contact with the lemongrass mixture, and which has less bones too.
- Child-Friendly: Skip the chilli padi in the lemongrass mixture. Alternatively, give the child the tail section of the fish which is not in contact with the lemongrass mixture.
- Egg-Free: No modifications needed.
- Gluten-Free: No modifications needed.
- Nut-Free: No modifications needed.
- Shellfish-Free: No modifications needed.