Mackerel in Kecap Sauce

This Beb Vuyk recipe of roasted mackerel in kecap sauce appeals to me immediately because it reminds me of the mackerel recipe my father used to love. This was also the only Indonesian dish I ever saw him make ;-). The scent of the delicious, fatty fish in combination with the soy sauce is very recognizable.

Beb wraps the fish in tinfoil packages. That is a good idea. The flavors stay well preserved and the soy sauce cannot burn.

This roasted fish dish is enough for at least 4 people (when you use 1 kilo of fish) and is done in 45 minutes.

Roasted Fish with Kecap # 240 translated from Beb Vuyk’s Groot Indonesisch Kookboek, page 215.


  • 1 kg of mackerel
  • 1 tablespoon oil


  • 3 tablespoons of chopped onions
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 3 tablespoons of kecap (sweet soy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons of asem (tamarind) water, made from a piece of asem the size of a walnut
  • salt
  1. Clean the fish and rub it with the asem (tamarind) and salt.
  2. Let this marinate for an hour.
  3. Grind onions and garlic together and mix in the kecap and oil.
  4. Dry the fish and rub it with the herbs /oil mixture.
  5. Wrap the fish in aluminum foil that has been oiled a little on the inside.
  6. Roast the fish packets under a grill or on a charcoal fire on both sides until they are done in 20 to 30 minutes.

The ingredients are very simple. I didn’t get a kilo of mackerel as prescribed in the recipe, but 500 grams, because we are with two tonight.

I start by mixing asem (tamarind) with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt. I buy already filtered tamarind (in a jar) at an Asian shop. For my 500 grams of mackerel, I use a bit more than one teaspoon of asem. I rub this mix all over my fish.

Meanwhile, I finely chop the onions and garlic and rub them together well. I add kecap and oil. I use a delicious sweet kecap and sunflower oil.

This rubbed paste is called the bumbu; super simple. I think it is important that the herbs are very simple because mackerel has an intense and specific strong flavor.

Time to wrap the fish with the sauce. I scoop some of the bumbu sauce on the tinfoil. I do not wipe the inside of the aluminum foil with oil. Not really necessary. The fish is fat enough and there is oil in the bumbu already.

I try to fold foil in a way they parcels cannot leak.

I use a grill plate that I can heat up on my stove. It’s autumn in Holland so roasting on charcoal fire is not an option. Heating up my oven is a lot of energy for my 500 grams of fish. So this grill plate is a great option.

Beb states in her recipe to cook the fish for about 20 – 30 minutes on a charcoal fire. Because I’ve halved the amount of mackerel I leave my parcels on the grill for about 15 minutes. Then I take it off and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Even in the tinfoil, it smells really nice. My daughter says she thinks it smells like the sour soup she knows from Burma (we used to live there when she was little). I think the sour Burmese soups were indeed flavored with tamarind just like our mackerel.

It’s a shame to unwrap the mackerel in soy sauce now; much of the moisture will run away. That is why I cut the top open like a window big enough to get your spoon in there. I add some flat parsley as color.

Many chefs believe that something that is not in the recipe cannot be a garnish. I’m not a chef, but a home cook so I take the opportunity to do it my way and add some parsley and I even sprinkle a bit of the kaffir lime (jeruk purut) fruit juice on top.

This mackerel in kecap sauce is definitely comfort food for cold autumn, rainy days.

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