Key Ingredient: Ketjap Manis

Lorna Yee discovers an Indonesian condiment to spice up fish and stir-fry or to use as a dipping sau

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Lorna Yee recently discovered the sweet joy of cooking with ketjap manis, an Indonesian soy sauce

What it is:
Ketjap manis is a thick, syrupy Indonesian soy sauce sweetened with palm sugar and flavored with ingredients such as garlic, star anise and coriander. It is a versatile condiment, lending itself readily to marinades or as a dipping sauce.

How I discovered it: A few years ago, I was hanging out in a friend’s kitchen as he prepared dinner. I had little knowledge of his native Indonesian cuisine and noticed various ingredients on his pantry shelf that were new to me. One of them was a bottle of ketjap manis. The food he prepared was extraordinary in the way simple, home-cooked food can be, but what intrigued me most was the addictive, sweet-savory taste of a simple ketjap-manis- and butter-basted piece of broiled fish.

How to use it in the kitchen:
Use ketjap manis as you would dark soy sauce in dishes where a touch of sweetness is welcome. For a simple, three-ingredient dish, combine it in equal parts with melted butter to brush onto fish or chicken (serve with lime wedges). Or make a dipping sauce for dumplings by combining it with chopped chiles, ginger and garlic. Use it in for an easy beef and vegetable stir-fry, or as part of a braising liquid for Asian fried tofu puffs. This month’s recipe for grilled fish with a sweet-and-sour ketjap manis dipping sauce was inspired by the focus on seafood in this issue’s Best Restaurants (page 61).

Where to find it:
In many Asian grocery stores, including Uwajimaya (International District, 600 Fifth Ave. S; 206.624.6248;, about $2 for a 10-oz. bottle.

Grilled Striped Bass with Ketjap Manis
Serves two

For the fish:
2 lbs. whole striped bass
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp finely minced ginger
kosher salt and pepper

For the dipping sauce:
¼ cup ketjap manis
juice of half a lime (or more, to taste)
2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
1 clove finely minced garlic
1 tsp finely minced ginger
1 tsp sambal oelek (or your favorite Asian hot sauce, optional)

To serve:
Steamed rice
Cooked greens, such as escarole, cooked simply in olive oil and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper

Clean the fish and make a few slits on both sides of the fish. Rub the fish with olive oil, garlic, ginger, and season with salt and pepper.

Grill the fish for about 7-8 minutes on each side, until cooked through.

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dipping sauce. Taste for balance, adding a little more lime juice and/or hot sauce if you desire. Serve the fish directly on the sautéed escarole, with the sauce on the side.


Originally Published in April 2010