Fish stuffed with herbs on the grill or Pla Pao

Thai Style Coal-Roasted Fish

Pla Pao

Thai style coal-roasted fish or Pla Pao is another Thai street food staple. This dish can be made by many varieties of whole fish. However, the size of the fish should not exceed 2 lbs. Street vendors in Thailand usually use freshwater fish such as catfish, tilapia, and sneak head. These fish are coming from farm raise or often caught from the river. But you can also use any white ocean fish such as snapper, sea bream, Pomfret, or Bronzino.

The word “Pla” means “fish” and “Pao” means “to grill”. By cooking the fish whole over charcoal resulted in smokiness and juiciness of the fish.  Moreover, the fish has been rubbed and stuffed with herbs and aromatic spices for flavor. Therefore, this is one of the best ways to cook the whole fish that will be the crowd favorite. Serving Pla Pao with Nam Jim Talay and you will have another winning combination add to your BBQ repertoire. Bon Appetit!!!


  • 1 whole white fish 2 lbs size, organs removed and gutted clean 
  • 1 whole pandan leaf
  • 1 whole turmeric, about 1-inch piece finely chopped or substituted with turmeric powder
  • 1 whole galangal, about 2 inches piece, sliced
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, smashed and cut into a manageable size to fit 
  • 6 whole cilantro
  • 6 whole kaffir lime leaves
  • 6 whole garlic cloves, smashed
  • kosher salt


To Prepare the Fish by:

Start cleaning the whole fish by split open the stomach and remove all the organs. Then thoroughly wash the fish cavity and padded dry. Next with a knife, scored the fish skin about 3 slits on both sides. Lastly, sprinkle with kosher allover the fish included the cavity and rest on a rack for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, wash off the salt then padded dry.

Making the Aromatic Stuffing by:

  1. First using a food processor or mortar to crush the turmeric with about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt into roughly paste. Then rubbing all over both the skin and inside cavity of the fish with the paste.
  2. Next, gather pandan leaf, galangal slices, lemongrass, cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, and garlic together. Then carefully stuffs the fish cavity with these ingredients.
  3. Sprinkle the fish skin with kosher salt and it is ready to go on the charcoal grill.

Preparing the Grill by:

  1. Preferably using charcoal by separate the grill into the hot and the cooler side.
  2. Starting by place the fish on a grilling basket. This tool will save you from the fish sticking to the grill and also will help to flip the fish easier. But, make sure to use nonstick oil to coat the basket. In Thailand we use bamboo skewers for this so, the fish never have to touch the grill.
  3. Then let it cook for about 10 minutes on each side making sure to flip the fish often every 5 minutes. This depends on how close is your fish to the hot coal and how hot is your grill.
  4. The ideal temperature of your BBQ grill should be around 350°F – 375°F.
  5. Once fully cooked rest the fish for at least 10 minutes before filleting.

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