It has been a long time since my last recipe post—almost exactly six months in fact. I imagine you have been subsisting in the interim on water and stale bread, hoping each day that I would bring you something new, never letting disappointment crush you entirely. Good news! Your wait is at an end! Here is a recipe for a very tasty fish dish and you can make it today as long as you have banana leaves on hand. What’s that? You don’t have banana leaves on hand? I don’t know why I bother with you bastard people. Well, I suppose you could get by with parchment paper, or perhaps even foil; but if you have an East Asian market somewhere in your vicinity you should stop reading now and go get some banana leaves and come back and find out what to do with them. And, oh yes, get some fresh fish fillets as well.
Now that you’ve got the banana leaves and fish here’s what you do.
- 6-8 boneless fish fillets, about 1-1.5 lbs (I used ocean perch from Costco but any white fish or even salmon will work).
- 1 large red onion, sliced thinly.
- 1 tblspn freshly grated ginger.
- 1 tspn freshly grated garlic.
- The following ground to a coarse powder: 3-5 dried red chillies, 1/2 tspn turmeric powder, 1 tspn black peppercorns, 1 tspn coriander seeds.
- 2 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes or equivalent fresh tomatoes.
- 1 tspn sugar.
- 1/2 cup coconut milk.
- As many Thai chillies as you have pieces of fish.
- 1/2 cup cilantro.
- 1 8″x8″ square (approx.) of banana leaf per fish fillet.
- Heat the oven to 400ºF.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the sliced onions. Saute over medium heat until beginning to brown around the edges.
- Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute or two till the raw aroma is gone.
- Add the ground spices and saute for another minute or so, stirring frequently.
- Add the tomatoes, salt and sugar and cook it all down over medium-low heat till the oil separates. Stir often to prevent scorching.
- While the curry is cooking prepare the banana leaf squares. Moisten each one under running water and stack on a plate.
- Take a large baking sheet that will be able to hold all the packets comfortably and place one banana leaf on it.
- Smear one tablespoon of the cooked-down red curry in the center of the leaf and place the fish on it. Smear more of the red curry over the fish to completely cover it. Add one tablespoon of coconut milk over the top, and put a slit green chilly and some cilantro over.
- Fold the banana leaf over on all sides to form a packet, and turn it upside down so the folds are below. Move it to the side of the baking sheet and repeat till you have all your packets formed.
- Place the sheet in the center of the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish).
- Remove from the oven, place each packet on a plate and serve with steamed rice.
- You don’t have to make 8 fillets at a time, of course. The recipe is for 8 because that’s how many I made for a recent dinner party. But I would suggest making the curry all at once. Even if you are only cooking 1-4 pieces of fish at a time the curry will keep for 3-4 days, becoming tastier in the process, and all you’ll have to do each time is make the packets and bung ’em in the oven.
- You can modulate the heat to your liking by using more or fewer dried red chillies (or milder ones) or using less pepper; but you do want some heat in there.
- This would be very good with whole fish as well—think pompano or red snapper or striped bass or similar. Make sure to make deep cuts on the sides of the fish, work enough of the curry in there and the rest into the cavity. You’ll have to work out the cooking time on your own but I’d guess 30 minutes would do it for a not too massive fish. The advantage of cooking the fish in banana leaves is that it remains very moist so even if you go a bit over it won’t be an issue.