Thai grilled fish recipe (pla pao)

Author: Marthinus Strydom
Category: Seafood
Serves/Qty: 4.00
Heidi Strydom

In my opinion, the Thai method of grilling a whole fish is one of the best I've encountered anywhere.

Marthinus Strydom

The Story

A thick layer of salt crust covers the entire fish, keeping the flesh moist and succulent throughout the grilling process. When paired with a garlic chili seafood dipping sauce, Thai grilled fish (pla pao ปลาเผา) becomes an extraordinary meal!

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Adjust Quanities

For the fish
2 whole fish
200 g salt (big grain if possible or flakes)
2 tbsp (6 Teaspoons) all purpose flour
1 tbsp (3 Teaspoons) water
6 stalks lemongrass
small handful kaffir lime leaves (or lime zest mixed with basil leaves)
For the seafood sauce
6 tbsp (18 Teaspoons) fresh lime juice
3 tbsp (9 Teaspoons) water
2 tbsp (6 Teaspoons) fish sauce
1 tbsp (3 Teaspoons) sugar
0.50 tsp salt
15 cloves garlic
20 thai bird chilies (or any other chillie)


Thai Grilled Fish (Pla Pao ปลาเผา)

  • When buying your whole fish, ask the vendor to remove the guts from the gills without slicing the belly open. Rinse the fish with water and pat them dry with a paper towel.
  • If using charcoal (recommended), start the charcoal first so it’s ready when the fish is prepared.
  • Beat and bruise lemongrass stalks with a mortar or rolling pin to bring out the flavor. Prepare a small handful of kaffir lime leaves.
  • Fold the lemongrass in half and stuff the fish with a stalk of lemongrass and about 10 kaffir lime leaves. Depending on the size of the fish, use 2-3 lemongrass stalks per fish. Make sure it’s tight but not so hard that the flesh breaks.
  • In a large mixing bowl or pan, combine salt,  all-purpose flour, and  water. Mix thoroughly until the salt is a bit moist so it sticks to the fish easily.
  • Place the fish in the pan and plaster it with the salt mixture. Pat and rub the fish with the salt, covering the entire fish, including the head and tail.
  • Ensure a steady, low heat with a bed of coals. If the coals are too hot, tone them down with ashes or push the hot coals to one side and place the fish on the other side for indirect heat. Slow cook the fish to avoid burning the outside, aiming for a grilling time of about 1 hour.
  • Wait about 15 minutes before flipping the fish. If flipped too early, the skin might stick to the griddle. Flip the fish as little as possible. Roast until the fish feels firm and the salted skin is crusty and golden (45 minutes to 1 hour).
  • Remove the fish from the grill and place it on a platter. Use a knife or scissors to cut through the skin from the top. Lift the skin to reveal the moist meat. Serve with sticky rice or white rice and lots of seafood sauce.

Seafood Sauce

  • Peel about garlic and 10 chilies. Pound ½ teaspoon of salt, the garlic, and chilies using a mortar and pestle until there are no big chunks.
  • In a bowl, mix the pounded garlic and chilies with 6 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice, 3 tablespoons of water, 2.5 tablespoons of fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Adjust to taste, aiming for a balance of slightly salty, sour, and slightly sweet flavors.

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