Grilled Snapper in Coconut Sauce

One of the most characteristic dishes of the islands of Zanzibar is samaki wa kupaka: red snapper broiled over a jiko charcoal brazier and smothered in a creamy turmeric–coconut milk curry. Shane Mitchell, who researched the region for her book Far Afield, recommends hunting for the dish among the food stalls at the Forodhani Gardens night market in Stone Town. Or make it yourself: The grilled red snapper is marinated with piri piri, African bird’s eye chiles, for bold flavor and extra heat—just don’t marinate too long or the lime will denature the fish’s delicate proteins. Using a grill basket makes grilling a whole fish easy and stress-free. Look for bottled piri piri sauce  or crushed dried chiles at specialty grocers.

Grilled Snapper in Coconut Sauce
Photo: Jennifer Causey
Active Time:
45 mins
Total Time:
1 hr 50 mins


  • 1 (2- to 2 1/2-pounds) whole red snapper, cleaned and scaled

  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice (from 3 limes)

  • 3 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger

  • 4 garlic cloves

  • 1 to 2 red piri piri chiles, Thai chiles, or similar chiles, seeded and chopped (about 1 teaspoon)

  • 1 green Thai chile, seeded and chopped (about 1 teaspoon)

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1 cup well-shaken and stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk (such as Thai Kitchen Organic)

  • 2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate (such as Tamicon)

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro stems

  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, divided

  • Canola oil, for grilling basket

  • Cooked coconut rice, for serving


  1. Make 4 (3-inch-long) parallel cuts on each side of snapper, cutting down almost to the bone. Place fish in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish; set aside.

  2. Combine lime juice, ginger, garlic, chiles, and black pepper in a blender. Process until smooth, about 45 seconds. Coat fish with chile marinade, rubbing into slits and cavity. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours.

  3. Meanwhile, preheat grill to medium-high (400°F to 450°F). Combine coconut milk, tamarind concentrate, tomato paste, turmeric, cilantro, and 1 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup tamarind sauce for plating.

  4. Using paper towels, wipe excess chile marinade from fish. Sprinkle fish with remaining 2 teaspoons salt, rubbing into slits and cavity. Place fish in a metal grilling basket coated with oil. Place grilling basket on grill grate, and grill, covered, basting fish occasionally with remaining tamarind sauce (about 2/3 cup), until flesh flakes with a fork, 18 to 24 minutes, flipping halfway through grill time. Carefully remove fish from grilling basket, and transfer to a platter. Pour reserved 1/4 cup tamarind sauce over fish, and serve with coconut rice.

Suggested Pairing

Lime-inflected Australian Riesling.

Related Articles