We are settled in, kind of. I've unpacked the kitchen, and the rest of the house too -- sort of. My office is nearly together, and we now have internet at home, which means I can get back to spending time in this little space.
But it's late Friday afternoon and unlike in Kuala Lumpur, where we regularly worked until 8 or so, in Penang we make a point of enjoying our evenings. So I plan to close this computer while there is still light in the sky, take the dogs for a walk, and then kick back and contemplate dinner.
But first, one of the many reasons Penang agrees with us: ingredients. From fresh fruit to fish, they're on the whole spectacular here. We bought these fish 5 minutes by car from our house, at a roadside stall just 2 blocks from the little fishing boats that brought them in. Every day at 2pm the stall sets up, with some of the most beautiful, freshest seafood we've ever seen.
Did I mention that six of these beauties set us back the equivalent of only three-and-a-half US dollars?
We haven't bought charcoal for the grill yet, so after Dave cleaned the fish -- which taste something like mackerel, strong and oily and able to take assertive flavors, our favorite kind of fish -- I rubbed them, inside and out, with a fiery sambal made by a favorite Nyonya market vendor. I layed the chili-fied fish on a bed of cilantro leaves and stems and shredded green scallions spread over a lightly oiled piece of foil, squeezed over lime juice, and then tucked the spent lime quarters between them.
I placed a piece of foil over the top and secured the sides, leaving enough air for it to puff. And I cooked the fish for about 15 minutes. (This has become my fish preparation technique of choice lately, when I'm too lazy to get the bamboo steamer out of the cupboard.)
They turned out brilliantly, the sambal perfuming the fish's flesh and a nice little pool of fishy sambal juices under the wilted cilantro and scallions. And they're easy, something that would work well with shell-on prawns or squid or tuna or even salmon.
Making your own sambal is as simple as pounding (in a mortar) or blender-izing or food processor-izing: a handful of fresh small chilies, a bit of toasted (in the oven or on the stove-top, in a piece of foil) belacan or shrimp paste, garlic, salt and a bit of lime juice. It'll keep in the fridge for a couple weeks and is lovely stirred into wok-fried greens or just a mound of steaming plain rice.
Make your sambal strong and hot, because it will lose potency as it cooks into and over the fish.