Malaysian Spiced Fish Grilled in Banana Leaves

We know many of you  are busily fishing in your local creeks and lakes, possibly passing the time with hunting season being just around the corner. So in the meantime, with your freezer low in venison but full of freshly caught fish, try this recipe. When it comes to fish, forget frying for a moment. Ikan Panggang or Ikan Bakar, grilled fish with banana leaves is a Malay classic. Perfectly spiced with a paste made from fresh scallions, ginger, turmeric and lemongrass, then wrapped tightly in banana leaves and grilled directly over hot coals, this dish will impress any guest! Come to think of it, this spice paste is seen in Vietnamese cuisine as well. My brother came to help us with this recipe. Our mother buys fish pre-seasoned with similar spices at the Vietnamese store all the time. It is simple and delicious.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Grilling Time: 15-20 minutes
- 8 cashew nuts, roughly chopped
- 2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed and roughly chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 Thai chiles (bird's eye chile), stems removed and chopped
- 2 tsp. powdered turmeric
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbs. Asian fish sauce
- 3 tbs. vegetable oil

- 10-12 filets of crappie, or other white fish (great with heartier fish too)
- 4 square pieces of banana leaf, each about 12 x 12 inches

It's perfectly okay to grab a bag of nuts from the gas station...
If you can't find Thai chiles, you can use any you like.
In case you don't know, this is what lemongrass looks like. We often see it sold in American supermarkets here, but you will have better luck at an Asian one. The other knobby looking thing is, of course, ginger.
To trim lemongrass, peel all hard, dried outside leaves. Think of it as a leek. You want the bottom, tender inside parts of the lemongrass. Discard the leaves on top and the roots.
1. In a food processor, combine roughly chopped cashews, ginger, shallots, lemongrass, garlic, chiles, turmeric and black pepper. Pulse to a paste consistency.

Then work in 2 tbs. of fish sauce.

The paste should look like this. Be careful, because turmeric will stain.
2. In a skillet, heat 3 tbs. of vegetable oil over high heat. Add the spice paste and fry until dark and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon frequently. 

Then remove from heat and allow to cool completely. 
You can buy banana leaves frozen at your local Asian supermarket. They come in packets like this. You can also substitute with aluminum foil.
3. The leaves are basically halved down the middle vein, and then folded in side the package. Cut out four (4) 12x12 squares. Of course, you don't have to be exact. 

Rinse your banana squares in cold water. Dab dry. 
We took some of the extras and ripped them along the veins to make string to tie. There will be lots of leaves left. Store extras in the freezer. 

4. Rinse fish filets under cold water. Dab dry with paper towels.  

Prepare your grill for direct grilling on high. 
5. Lay one banana leaf, dark side down, on your work surface. 

Divide fish filets into 4 even servings. Lay one serving flat on a banana leaf, in one layer. 
Then, evenly spread a thin layer of the cooled spice paste on top of the fish. 

If you're using a thicker cut of fish, like swordfish steaks, wahoo or catfish, then spread the paste on both sides.

Next, fold the sides over.  
Then the top and bottom. The package should be fairly tight. 
Finally, with the banana strings you made earlier, tie the package together. If your string isn't long enough, tie 2 together. Perfection is not needed. It's just to keep the package intact when flipping on the grill. 
My brother: "They're like little third-world presents." 

These packets can be prepared several hours in advance. Just stick them in the fridge until you're ready to grill.
6. Place fish packets directly over coals, smooth side down. Grill until the banana leaves are nicely browned, about 5-8 minutes.
Then flip the packages over and continue to grill for another 8-10 minutes. 
Serve fish in banana leaves. Let each person open his or her own package. 

Serve with white rice or couscous. We had couscous with sauteed mushrooms.

We hope that you will like this recipe!