Life. Love. Food

Coal Grilled Fish Fillet

I have spent the better part of my life in one of the most vibrant suburbs in Nairobi – Lang’ata. Besides the fact that you can literally find everything at your door step (something I absolutely miss), Lang’ata seemed to come alive in the evenings. At dusk, these suburb streets filled with people rushing from work, clicks of youth lazily strolling, school children in their school uniforms and music-blasting matatus making their rounds. Street food vendors would erect their stands, prepare their food and serve the awaiting customers. The aromas that filled the cool evening air were those of roast maize, mutura, mshikaki and bhajia. I fondly remember the ladies who sold fried fish. With their wide grins and eager eyes, it was almost impossible to pass them by without buying some fish for yourself. These were the memories playing in my mind as I made this coal grilled tilapia fish fillet. It soaked in a rich marinade before cooking and this played up its flavor.
If you love fish, you will fall head over heels with this recipe that I got from one of my favorite chefs, Ina Garten. And if you do not like fish, I will make you a believer!

Here is what you will need:

2 small lemons
½ ginger
7 fish fillet pieces
2 tablespoons of dark Soy sauce
2 heaped tablespoons of Dijon mustard
Fish masala (opitional)

Put your fish in a large bowl. Cut half the ginger into small pieces and add them into the bowl.

Then, grate the zest of just one lemon and add it to the bowl. For the lemon juice, squeeze both the lemons.

In a separate cup, put your 2 table spoons of Dijon mustard and dark soy sauce. Mix them together until it looks like melted chocolate. Add this to the bowl and mix everything with your hands.

Let the marinade work its magic for no more than 4 hours.

***The acid of the lemons makes the fish absolutely tender in addition to all the flavor it adds. However, I noticed that if you let the marinade sit for too long, it starts to break down the flesh of the fish till it literally comes apart when you touch it. We want tender fish, not shredded fish, therefore marinate it for four hours max.

After your preferred time limit has lapsed, put your fish on a tray and use a pinch of fish masala for your rub. Fish masala is a cocktail of the following spices coriander, mustard, fennel seeds, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, chili and fenugreek. Just a pinch is enough since the fish masala is quite strong and we do not want to overpower the flavors of the marinade. This is optional, but besides additional flavor, the masala adds a golden color to the fish when put on the fire. Also, drizzle some oil so that the fish does not stick to the mesh.

I wanted to use a normal grill but I opted for a jiko because of that additional smokey taste which I just love. Also, I know without doubt that every Kenyan home has a jiko and this would make it easier for everyone to try. But if you want to use a grill or pan-fry the fish, that is fine too.
Light your jiko and when the coal embers have just started to glow, place your mesh, and after four minutes or so, put your fish.

Allow each side to have five minutes over the fire, but this may take longer or shorter depending on the thickness of your fish. You just need to observe and when the fish is opaque, it is done.

Serve this with mashed potatoes, this sauce, with a salad or with my all time favourite- ugali and kachumbari.

The first notes that hit your tongue is the tang of the lemon and warmth of the ginger. You then pick up the earthiness of the soy sauce and the after taste is the fish masala. The mustard keeps it very moist. It seriously does not get better than this. This is the kind of fish that will make your tongue want to lick your brain!!

Try this recipe and tell me what you think.

More goodness next time,


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  1. Boab

    I like this….will try over the weekend….keep posting i like what you are doing and i love cooking too so be sure i will always try what you post… 🙂

    • Kaluhi Adagala

      I am happy to know you love cooking too Bob, you will love this! Try this and let me know how it goes 🙂

  2. Waruguru

    I wish I knew this before we had fish fillet for supper yesterday!!! My big sis will absolutely love this because she is dead for fish. Thanks Kaluhi!!

    • Kaluhi Adagala

      #teamfish! There is always a next time though 🙂

  3. Diana Maweu

    at what temp should i use and for how long if I’m using an oven? I’m too lazy to light a jiko

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Hey Diana,
      You can use an oven too, the only thing that you will miss will be that smokey flavor, but the fantastic marinade makes up for it.For an oven, preheat at 400 and bake at 400 too. This should take around 15 minutes but the time may vary depending on the thickness of your fish. You can also pan fry the fillets. But all in all, whatever you are comfortable with, go with it.

  4. Zena

    fish was family loved it thou i deep fried it

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Awesome! So glad they did :)))

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