Pesmol Ikan Gurami: Deep-Fried Gourami Fish in Spicy Sauce

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Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk hails from Solo, the historic royal capital and cultural centre of Java, Indonesia. She has been cooking since the age of 12, and also performs and teaches traditional Javanese dance. Her dream is to eventually write her own Indonesian cookbook.

Ikan pesmol, or pesmol fish, is a typical Sundanese dish that originates in the Sunda region of West Java. As the name suggests, fish is the main ingredient for this dish. 

This recipe uses gourami fish, native to Asia and popular in Indonesia. It is readily available in the market where I live. But other whole fish with a firm texture can also be used, such as tilapia, carp, Indian mackerel and so on. The fish is first deep fried, and then simmered in spices and herbs, resulting in an exciting burst of flavours. The savoury fish is enveloped in a blend of spices, and the delicious mix of ingredients bear a hint of sweet and sour. 

Both fresh and frozen fish can be used to make ikan pesmol. If using frozen fish, make sure to thaw it slowly and properly so that the delicate fish won’t be ruined. Wash the fish thoroughly, and rub some lemon juice and salt to remove the fishy smell. 


Fry the fish in hot cooking oil. Slowly let each side of the fish become thoroughly cooked before turning it over. Avoid breaking the fish to pieces. It requires a bit of patience in doing this part, but in return, you will get a beautiful and flavourful whole fish. 

Ikan pesmol is delicious when enjoyed with plenty of steamed rice. Raw or boiled vegetables with sambal terasi can as well be served as a side dish, to complete the feast. Wilujeng tuang, as they say in Sundanese, or dig in as Americans would say!

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Pesmol Ikan Gurami: Sundanese Deep-Fried Gourami Fish in Spicy Sauce

Pesmol Ikan Gurami: Deep-Fried Gourami Fish in Spicy Sauce

  • Author: Nunuk Sri Rahayu
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Yield: 2 1x
  • Category: Fish & Seafood
  • Method: Basting
  • Cuisine: Indonesian
  • Diet: Halal


Ikan pesmol is a popular Sundanese dish of fried whole fish basted in a thick, delicious sauce, consisting of lemongrass, galangal, chillies, and other ingredients.


  • 1 medium gourami (around 500 gr)
  • 1 small lemon
  • 8 shallots, peeled, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 3 cm fresh turmeric, peeled, chopped
  • 2 cm fresh ginger, peeled, chopped
  • 2 candlenuts, chopped
  • 2 cm galangal, bruised
  • 1 lemongrass, use only the white part, bruised, knotted
  • 1 Indonesian bay leaf (daun salam)
  • Salt to taste
  • 0.5 tsp chicken stock powder
  • 0.5 tsp sugar
  • 150 ml water
  • 10 fresh bird’s eye chillies
  • Oil for deep frying and sautéing


  1. Clean and wash the fish thoroughly, and then sprinkle with salt and lemon juice. Rub the fish all over, set aside.
  2. Blend into a fine paste: shallots, garlic, turmeric, ginger and candlenuts.
  3. In a deep frying pan, heat enough oil over a medium high flame and deep fry the fish until golden, around 10 minutes each side.

    Fry the fish

  4. Discard the oil used for frying.
  5. In a clean wok, heat 3 tbsp oil over medium high heat, and sauté the spice paste until fragrant, around 3 minutes.
  6. Add galangal, lemongrass and the bay leaf.

    Fry all the spices together until fragrant

  7. Add the water.
  8. Season with salt, chicken stock cube and sugar.
  9. Add the fresh chillies.
  10. Add the fish. Baste the fish with the spice mixture.

    Baste the fish with the spice mixture.

  11. Continue cooking until the sauce is reduced and thickened.
  12. Transfer the fish to a serving plate and serve immediately.


TIPS for choosing fresh fish:

  • The fish should have bright and clear eyes with a firm texture.
  • The redder the gill, the fresher the fish.
  • Touch the stomach. It should be firm. If it feels soft, the fish is no longer fresh.
  • Fresh fish should have its scales firmly attached to the skin.

Keywords: Spicy, Lemongrass, Marinade, Garlic, Turmeric

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