Deep Frying Ikan Bilis (Dried Anchovies)

Frying Ikan Billis 001edited re-sized

It is important to fry Ikan Bilis at the correct oil temperature and for the correct length of time so that they are crisp to the bite and not burnt. Photo above shows the difference. The darker colour ikan bilis on the right of the tray was fried when the oil was not hot enough so it resulted in a much harder bite and would be best used to make a soup stock.

Many Asians are aware of the high nutrition value of Ikan bilis  – iron, omega-3 fatty acids and calcium and contains high proportion of proteins. According to the Health Promotion Board (HPB), ikan bilis has up to 53g of protein, with only 6g of fat. Their biggest disadvantage is their high sodium content but this is easily remedied by soaking and washing them before deep frying. Once deep fried they are hard to resist but we have to limit our portion size.

Many believe that its shorter life cycle means that it’s less prone to heavy metal contamination in the ocean so it’s possibly a safer choice, compared to larger types of fish with the propensity to accumulate heavy metals like mercury.
It is best to pick a sunny day to deep fry ikan bilis as this enables you to give the dried ikan bilis a wash and a quick sun outdoors for about an hour. If that is not possible, you can dry the washed ikan bilis in an oven (pre-heated to 130C ) for about 35 to 45 mins. Ensure that you have spread the washed ikan bilis evenly over the baking tray.


You only require prepared ikan bilis and cooking oil.

STEP 1. Pick through the ikan bilis to separate the fish from the residue. You can save the residue for making a stock on another occasion.

STEP 2. Heat a thick bottomed saucepan with about 4 to 5 cm of cooking oil for about 5 to 10 mins. If the oil is smoking, it is too hot and should be removed from the heat for a few minutes. Watch and adjust heat accordingly.

In the photo above, the darkish colour of the oil comes about after ikan bilis has been fried in it on 2 other occasions. After this session of deep frying I would suggest that the oil be discarded.

Test the temperature of the oil by dropping one or 2 ikan bilis into the hot oil. They should float up within a second or two. If oil is at the correct temperature, drop in only one handful of  ikan bilis to fry each time.

STEP 3. The oil will bubble and foam whilst ikan bilis is frying. As they fry, you will also hear a faint crackling sound. Stir with a pair of wooden chopsticks and pick one up to test if it is ready after about 4 to 5 mins.

STEP 4.  If ikan bilis is ready, quickly lift them out to prevent burning. If needs be (see photo below) remove saucepan from heat for a min or 2 so that oil temperature drops somewhat as you gather all the fried ikan bilis out of the oil.

STEP 5. Drain fried ikan bilis on a metla tray lined with disposable paper towels.

STEP 6. Once all the ikan bilis have been fried and drained, cool the oil for about 30 mins and filter the oil for future use. Dispose the oil after it has been used thrice to fry ikan bilis. For more details about Filtering Oil, (click here).

Serving suggestions

Whilst dried ikan bilis have been used to make soup stocks, ground with unpolished rice and cooked as babies’ first solids, Deep Fried Ikan Bilis can be used as toppings for Fried Rice (click here) or Fried Bee Hoon and for a number of vegetable dishes. They are also delicious as a snack washed down with a refreshing cold mug of beer.

What would a plate of Nasi lemak be without the crunch of Deep Fried Ikan Bilis and ground-nuts?


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