Pla Pao (Authentic Thai Grilled Fish Recipe)

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Thai pla pao, an authentic Thai grilled fish recipe, is a classic dish that’s downright amazing. A salty, lemongrass-infused fish, easily prepped and sizzling away on your grill. And when you drizzle on that homemade seafood dipping sauce? Unbelievably delicious!

Close-up of pla pao, authentic Thai grilled fish, highlighting the tender, flaky flesh beneath the golden-brown skin.

Don’t miss out on my other easy Thai fish recipes! Thai steamed fish recipe, spicy Thai red curry fish, and Thai crispy fish with tamarind sauce.

What is pla pao

Pla pao is a Thai salt-grilled fish, known for its salty, smoky flavor and aromatic lemongrass notes. This popular dish is often served with a spicy and tangy seafood dipping sauce.

Authentic Thai grilled fish recipe

Fish and grill, the scent of smoke in the air – it’s the little things that make life worth living, right?

This Thai-style grilled fish is my go-to, and it’s ridiculously easy.

Stuff that fish, pop it on the grill, and wait it out.

A wooden fork holds a juicy piece of grilled fish flesh besides a bowl of seafood dipping sauce.

There’s something special about this recipe. There’s a thick salt crust that keeps every bit of the fish flesh moist and tender.

And that side of garlic chili seafood dipping sauce adds a little bit of heat and a little bit of tang, it’s the best!

When it’s grilling time, spread the coals out for even heat and to prevent burning. A sprinkle of old charcoal ash keeps the flames just right. It’s an old-school trick I learned from my Thai grandmother.

Seafood dipping sauce

The dipping sauce I whipped up for this Thai pla pao fish recipe is a little nutty, a touch sweet, and has just enough heat from the chilies.

With roasted peanuts, palm sugar, tamarind, and fish sauce, it’s full of authentic flavors that you can easily whip up within minutes, all while the fish is on the grill.

Close-up of Thai seafood dipping sauce with fresh vegetables.
Homemade dipping sauce, perfect for grilled fish.

If you’re not feeling this one, check out my other Thai seafood sauce recipes: I’ve got a fiery nam jim seafood and a tangy Thai green chili sauce for seafood.

Choose to dip or drizzle, either way, you’ll love it. Pair it with a fluffy bed of steamed rice and lots of fresh vegetables for a Thai restaurant-quality meal at home.

Grilled fish grilling over charcoal at a Thai market.
In Northeastern Thailand, grilled fish is a common sight at most food markets.

Why try this recipe

  • Perfect for a backyard barbecue: Pla pao is perfect for a fancy dinner or your next barbecue party.
  • Healthy grilling recipe: Grilling fish is easy and healthy. It’s packed with lean protein and is low in calories.
  • Authentic Thai eating: Salt-crusted grilled fish is immensely popular in Northeastern Thailand, Isan. It’s a common choice for communal eating, where a Thai family gathers around one grilled fish and pairs it with sticky rice.
  • Budget-friendly: Opt for an affordable fish like tilapia and keep it simple with cheap ingredients.

Ingredients

For the exact measurements, please scroll down to the recipe card at the end of this post.

Fish

Fresh tilapia presented on a banana leaf with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, with bowls of all-purpose flour and salt flour.
  • Tilapia – Tilapia is a mild fish that absorbs flavors perfectly. For those who want other options for grilling fish, try red tilapia, red snapper, or a different kind of whole firm fish.
  • Lemongrass – This fragrant, citrusy herb is a Thai cooking staple. The belly of the fish is stuffed with lemongrass, infusing it with a hint of lemongrass
  • Kaffir lime leaves – These infuse the grilled fish with a floral aroma and a refreshing taste. You can get them fresh or dried at Asian grocery stores.
  • All purpose flour – Gives the fish a slight crust, ensuring all the flavors are sealed in.
  • Salt flower – Fleur de sel is a special salt collected from the sea. It sticks to fish better than regular salt.
  • Vegetables – Pla pao is typically served with a side of crunchy vegetables, feel free to add your favorites like cucumber slices, lettuce, or tomatoes.

Dipping sauce for fish

Thai dipping sauce ingredients: fiery red chilies, garlic cloves, peanuts, accompanied by coriander roots, palm sugar, tamarind sauce, and fish sauce.
  • Chilies – Add chilies to taste to give your grilled fish dipping sauce a fiery kick suited to your spice level.
  • Roasted peanuts – Adds a nutty crunch and a smoky note. Visit my dry roasted peanuts recipe or buy them store-bought.
  • Coriander root – Adds an earthy note that gives the sauce aroma.
  • Garlic
  • Tamarind sauce – Tamarind sauce is a staple in Thai cuisine for adding a tangy sourness to dishes.
  • Palm sugar – Adds a caramel-like sweetness that balances the tang and spicy flavor.
  • Fish sauce – Adds umami and a rich flavor to the seafood dipping sauce.
  • Water – Ensures the flavors are mixed into a smooth dip.

Cooking instructions

How to grill fish

Instructional steps for making pla plao: stuffing fish with lemongrass; a flour mixture; fish coated with flour; and fish grilled over charcoal.

1. Prepare the fish: Clean the fish thoroughly, ensuring it’s free from innards, while keeping the scales on. Insert lemongrass stalks and kaffir lime leaves into the fish’s cavity.

2. Mix flour: Combine all-purpose flour with salt flower.

3. Coat the fish: Apply the flour and salt mixture evenly over the fish. Once coated, allow the fish to rest for 15 minutes. During this time, preheat your grill and prepare the dipping sauce.

4. Grill the fish: Place the fish on the grill. Cook until the exterior is crisp, and the interior flesh is tender, flipping carefully as needed. Serve with fresh vegetables, noodles or rice, and the dipping sauce.

Dipping sauce

Dipping sauce for grilled fish in a food processor.

1. Make the sauce: Combine the specified ingredients for the dipping sauce in a food processor. Process the mixture until it achieves a smooth or slightly chunky consistency, as preferred.

Kitchen tools

  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Tongs for flipping your fish
  • A grill

How to serve

Lay your grilled fish on a large platter. Dress it up with slices of lemon, a sprinkle of chopped herbs like cilantro or green onions, and add a side of steamed jasmine rice or perhaps a spicy salad like som tum Thai.

A hand presenting a lettuce wrap filled with grilled fish, vegetables, and rice vermicelli.

Additionally, you can add a side of vermicelli noodles and create lettuce cups with noodles, dipping sauce, and a piece of grilled fish.

Place the dipping sauce in center and complete with fresh vegetables:

  • Cucumber slices
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Yard long beans
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce

How to store and reheat

Transfer the leftovers in an airtight container and keep it in the refrigerator. It’ll stay fresh for up to 2 days.

Reheating instructions: Gently reheat in an oven until it’s just warmed through. A microwave will dry out the fish flesh.

Frequently asked questions

How can I tell when the fish is perfectly cooked?

The fish should flake easily with a fork, and the internal temperature at the thickest part should read around 145°F (63°C).

Can I prepare the dipping sauce ahead of time?

Yes, it keeps well in the fridge in an airtight container for several days.

More Thai grilling recipes you’ll love

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Prep Time 10 min Cook Time 25 min Total Time 35 mins
Servings: 3

Description

Pla pao - authentic Thai grilled fish recipe with a homemade dipping sauce. Pair with rice and fresh vegetables.

Ingredients

Fish

Dipping sauce

Instructions

  1. Grill the fish

    Clean the fish thoroughly, ensuring it’s free from innards, while keeping the scales on. Insert lemongrass stalks and kaffir lime leaves into the fish’s cavity.

  2. Combine all-purpose flour with salt flower.

  3. Apply the flour and salt mixture evenly over the fish. Once coated, allow the fish to rest for 15 minutes. During this time, preheat your grill and prepare the dipping sauce.

  4. Place the fish on the grill. Cook until the exterior is crisp, and the interior flesh is tender, flipping carefully as needed. Serve with fresh vegetables, noodles or rice, and the dipping sauce.

Dipping sauce

  1. Combine the specified ingredients for the dipping sauce in a food processor. Process the mixture until it achieves a smooth or slightly chunky consistency, as preferred.

Nutrition Facts

Servings 3


Amount Per Serving
Calories 939kcal
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 38.5g60%
Saturated Fat 7.5g38%
Total Carbohydrate 63.82g22%
Dietary Fiber 5.8g24%
Sugars 19.7g
Protein 93g186%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Note

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • Serve with your favorite fresh vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, and yard long beans.
Keywords: pla pao, authentic Thai grilled fish recipe, pla pao recipe
About Author

Praew

I owned my own Thai restaurant and have years of experience in various other Thai restaurants. I've been whipping up classic Thai dishes by my mother's and grandma's side since I was just a little girl. Now I'm sharing my deep-rooted passion with my authentic Thai recipes on this food blog.

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