Curried fish in bamboo with coconut rice

3:10 pm on 5 August 2016
Curried fish in bamboo with coconut rice

From Chop Chop by Brett McGregor, Random House NZ Photo: Jae Frew

Serves 2

Prep time: 20 minutes + marinating

Cook time: 30 minutes

I love this dish. I know not everyone has bamboo lying around, but why not add a dish that screams authenticity. The recipe is actually a very old Malaysian dish created by the Nonya people. I was lucky enough to spend some quality time in Pangkor Laut, a beautiful island off the western coast of Malaysia, and learnt this local dish from a great chef.

This traditional way of cooking rice is simply stunning. You never really know how much rice to put back into a coconut until you have emptied all its milk. The usual ratio of rice to coconut water is one to one, so for every tablespoon of rice simply add a tablespoon of coconut water. I like to stick to no more than half the liquid from the coconut — that gives a little room for the rice to plump up. Get the barbecue ready, we are about to cook.

Extracted from Chop Chop by Brett McGregor, published by Random House NZ. Photography by Jae Frew.



  • 2 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 cm piece of galangal (optional,
  • but good)
  • 3 cm knob of ginger
  • 2 lemongrass stalks
  • 1 tbsp dried shrimp
  • 30 g macadamia nuts
  • 20 g fresh turmeric, or 2 tsp ground
  • good pinch of freshly ground
  • black pepper
  • 15 g curry powder for fish (found in
  • Asian markets)
  • 2 tbsp chilli paste
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 2–3 tbsp grated palm sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 50 ml coconut milk


  • 300 g firm-fleshed white fish fillets,
  • skin on, cut into 2 cm wide strips
  • 1 x 30 cm long and 5 cm diameter
  • piece of bamboo
  • good few handfuls of fresh herbs,
  • torn (coriander, watercress, Thai
  • basil, Vietnamese mint)


  • 1 coconut with as much husk as possible, otherwise the coconut will burn
  • 2 pandan leaves or large fresh
  • herbs
  • rice


Slowly pound all the paste ingredients, except the oil and coconut milk, in your mortar and pestle until smooth. Heat the oil in a pan and add the paste. Fry until fragrant and the oil has split from the paste. Add the coconut milk and combine. Stir continuously until an oily residue appears on the surface. Set aside to cool. You may not need all of this paste, but it freezes well, so no worries.

Spread the spice paste over your fish, cover and marinate for at least half an hour, but longer is always better.

Meanwhile, heat your barbecue to medium and get all your herbs into a large bowl and combine.

To assemble, place some of the fresh herbs into the bamboo then layer with fish and repeat until the bamboo is threequarters full, finishing with more herbs.

Carefully drill or cut into one of the eyes of the coconut and drain it of liquid, reserving the coconut water. Add a tablespoon of rice back into the hole followed by a tablespoon of the coconut water. Keep filling the coconut until half of the water has been used. Plug the hole with pandan or herbs and place on the barbecue. The rice should be cooked after about 20–25 minutes.

Place the filled bamboo on the barbecue on a slight angle so everything does not come out and grill for 20–25 minutes or until the steam just stops coming out of the top and there is no liquid left on the top of the bamboo. Serve hot with coconut rice.


You can wrap the coconut in tinfoil to help prevent it from burning or simply cook the rice in your rice cooker or by absorption with coconut water for a similar result.


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