When my mom was around, she used to cook this salted fish dish which I loved very much. Sometimes, when she can't find the firm and meatier salted fish, she would used other types of firm meat salted fish. I don't fancy soft meat salted fish like gelama that much for this dish :-) In the Penang island, this style of cooking is known as Masak Branda or sometimes, it's written as Masak Belanda but in Malacca it's known as Goreng Asam. I suspected the name of the dish may be influenced by Indonesian Peranakans from Medan in North Sumatera which is very close to Penang island. During the heyday of Spice Trail and colonisations, Indonesia was influenced by Dutch (in my country, the locals still call Netherlands as Holland) or Belanda in Malay language (derived from Portuguese ~ 'Holanda').
I also discovered this versatile sauce or gravy for this dish easily adapted for fried eggs, meat, seafood and vegetables as well. My favourite vegetable for this tamarind gravy is aubergine (eggplant or brinjal), which I will post the soonest.
If you read or knew Peranakan culture in Southeast Asia, a Nyonya was trained not just the cooking skills but also able to adapt their recipes accordingly to seasonal ingredients. I hope Peranakan culture and cuisine stays in years to come as younger generations of this minority group found the tradition is no longer practical in today's world. As the older generations faded away, it's easy to dine Nyonya cuisine in restaurants but I can assured you, the best Nyonya cuisine comes from the home and from the heart. It's truly an authentic amalgam of Malaysian cultures. If you ever invited to a Peranakan Nyonya home for meal, DON'T decline it! No second thoughts! ;-)
Fried Salted Fish in Tamarind Sauce (Ikan Masin Masak Branda)
150 g Dried Salted Fish Meat (preferably firm and white fish meat like Red Snapper, Threadfin or Cod)
2 nos Fresh Red Chillies ~ sliced diagonally
6 nos Red Shallots (Asian Red Shallots) ~ sliced thinly
5 cloves Garlic ~ sliced thinly
20 g Ginger ~ cleaned, removed outer skin & julliened
300 ml Tamarind Juice ( or 35 g Tamarind Puree + 250 ml water)
20 g Raw Cane Sugar or to taste (or Granulated Sugar)
1 g - 2 g Grounded White Pepper or to taste (about 1/2 tsp full)
Some chopped Fresh Coriander, Spring Onions, Crispy fried shallots or Ginger
1. Removed any dried scales and hard fish bones hidden within the salted fish meat. Sliced the dried salted fish meat of your choice about 0.5 cm thick pieces. Soak them in water for few minutes. Remove and pat the pieces dry with kitchen paper. Set aside.
2. Heat some cooking oil in a pan enough to fry the salted fish meat ( I used about 125 ml cooking oil for the amount of salted fish I used). When the oil is hot, fry the salted fish pieces until crispy but be careful not to burn them. Remove them quickly into some kitchen paper to absorb the access oil. Arrange the salted fish into a serving plate.
3. Remove some of the oil and leave about 50 ml in the pan. Stir-fry the sliced chillies, red shallots, garlic and ginger until fragrant.
4. Add in the Tamarind juice and let the gravy boils for few minutes.
5. Add in sugar and grounded white pepper to taste and continue to let the gravy boils until it thickens to your preference.
6. Pour the thickened gravy over the fried salted fish pieces in the serving plate. Serve with hot steamed rice or rice congee with other condiments.
If you can't find Tamarind Purée (with seeds and impurities remove), use the usual Tamarind pulp with seeds. You may need more amount than the Tamarind Purée. I usually average it 1 teaspoon full of Tamarind Purée to 1 Tablespoon full of Tamarind Pulp. In Malaysia's Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine, each household has their own taste preferences. It's difficult to give exact measurement as most recipes literally handed down through the female generations. For this recipe, I like it more sour with lots of ginger and garlic. For chilli fans, you can replace fresh chillies with dried chillies instead :-)
If you can't find firm whole salted fish meat fillets like Spanish Mackerel, Red Snapper, Threadfin, you can use those small salted fish that had been sliced and dried in halves in Thai supermarkets or major Asian shops.