It’s the peak of the ‘summer’ season here in Singapore. We don’t really have summers here as its sunny and rainy pretty much 365 days a year. Such are the pleasures (or sometimes nuiscance ) of living on a tropical island , just a few degrees north of the equator. So, usually, the husband and I go away on a short trip this time of the year and usually it’s to somewhere near, like Thailand. We love Thailand- her people,food,culture but not so much the mad traffic jams. I was hankering for a good dose of yummy Thai food so, hence the creation of this recipe. It’s an easy thai ‘pesto’ of sorts that’s smothered over a fresh fish and baked in the oven between banana leaves. Banana leaves are used in South-East Asian cuisines especially for baking and grilling as they impart a lovely aroma and flavour. You’ll understand when you try it! This dish is just very summery and fresh tasting. Make sure you get the freshest fish as this will make all the difference. The fish meat is so soft and flavourful that you’d wish you had bought a larger fish! You can adjust the proportions of ingredients for the paste if you have a larger fish. For chilli lovers, you can keep the seeds of the bird’s eye chillis but be forewarned- they are HOT! very HOT! The smaller chillis are, the more punch they pack. This dish would be fantastic over the grill but you have the wrapped the fish in a banana leaf parcel and then with foil. Soak the banana leaves in water so that they soften up and do not tear when you fold them.
Thai Baked Fish in Banana Leaf
Serves 2 as a main course
1 knob young ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 knob galangal (blue ginger), roughly chopped
4 lemongrass, only the tender white portions, thinly sliced
2-3 bird’s eye chillies/chilli padi , deseeded
2 cloves garlic
1 medium onion or 3 shallots
3 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
1-2 tsp grated thai palm sugar or brown sugar
1 handful of coriander leaves, stems & roots
1 lime- 1/2 juiced (for paste) and 1/2 sliced (for fish)
3-4 tbsp thai fish sauce, or salt to taste
3 whole banana leaves, cut lengthwise into halves
500 g whole red snapper (or any firm white flesh fish), gutted and scaled
6 asparagus stalks (or any firm sliced vegetable like tomatoes)
Wipe clean banana leaves with damp cloth and dry
Put all ingredients, except banana leaves and lime slices, into food processor and blend to a paste. Taste paste to check on sugar and salt.
If it’s too sour, add more sugar. The paste will be slightly salty.
Cut 3 slits on each side of the fish. Do not pierce through the fish.
Spread paste onto fish, making sure to get the paste inside the slits and abdomen. Leave to marinate for about 30 minutes at least.
Lay 2 banana leave halves on a roasting tray and place the 6 asparagus stalks in the middle of the leaf, next to each other.
Gently transfer marinated fish onto asparagus. Arrange the lime slices on top of fish.
Place the remaining 2 banana leaf halves over the fish, tucking the sides into the pan such that it forms a loose-fitting parcel.
Place in 200 C oven, middle rack, for 20-25 minutes. The banana leaves will start to curl and become very browned.
You can check doneness by looking to see that the flesh along the slits are white and the meat comes away from the bones easily.
To serve, place a banana leaf onto serving dish and carefully transfer cooked fish and asparagus stalks. Replace the baked lime slices with fresh ones.
Garnish with thinly sliced bird’s eye chillies and coriander leaves.
The dish is best eaten with plain rice.