Roasted Fish with Prickly Ash Pepper (Cá Nướng Mắc Khén)

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Save Recipe roasted fish with mac khen pepper
  • 1Servings
  • 20 mPrep Time
  • 30 mCook Time
  • 60 mReady In
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This Vietnamese dish is originated from the ethnic Thái people in mountainous northwestern Vietnam who call it pa pỉnh tộp. The cornerstone of this grill/roast dish is the local prickly ash pepper known as mắc khén. Mắc khén pepper is the spice made from the seeds of the prickly ash plant Zanthoxylum rhetsa, which is similar to Sichuan pepper.

Mắc khén pepper has a distinct aroma and mild pungent taste, so it is perfect to mask the fishy smell of fish.

Zanthoxylum rhetsa mac khen pepper
Zanthoxylum rhetsa mac khen pepper

Technically, any freshwater might be suitable for this dish. However, the local people used to use the fish caught in the mountain streams. Suggested fish are several large-lipped carp species (Labeo/Sinilabeo/Semilabeo) like Sinilabeo graffeuilli (cá mỵ), Sinilabeo lemassoni (cá rầm xanh), Semilabeo obscurus (cá anh vũ) as well as several Spinibarbus fish like S. denticulatus (cá bỗng).

roasted tilapia with mac khen pepper
Roasted tilapia with mac khen pepper


Step by step method

  • Prepping the fish

    Gut the fish, remove the internal parts, and fins, and scale it. Devein the fish and clean the black membrane. Score or butterfy it, depending on how you want to serve the dish.

  • Marinating

    In a bowl, rub the fish inside out with some salt or granule seasoning, 2 TB crushed prickly ash pepper, and chopped herbs. Stuff the fish with all the spices.

  • Roasting

    Use two bamboo sticks as a clip to roast both sided of the fish over charcoal until they are golden brown. Alternately, pre-heat the oven for 15 mins. Roast the fish wrapped in a tin foil for about 20-25 mins at 220°C (428°F).

Tips & variations

  • Only use big fish. If it's too big, butterfly it.

  • The time for oven-roasted fish may vary depending on the size of the fish.

  • Removing the two white fish veins in some type of fish helps reduce the fishy smell.

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