Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bananas Have Leaves?

The Fishguy Market (Elston and Montrose http://www.fishguy.com/), had grouper today which is one of my favorite fish ever.  I rarely see it around here, and for $10 a lb, I couldn't pass it up.  I felt inspired by this amazing find and wanted to do it justice, so I got a little wild.

I had no idea what I wanted to do with it at first so I went hunting around for fish recipes online.  I stumbled across a Malaysian fish recipe that roasted a fish in a banana leaf.  My first thought was "bananas have leaves?"  My second though was "where am I going to find a banana leaf?"  I had the method of cooking the fish nailed down, but I had no idea where I was going to get the necessary ingredients.  Undeterred, I set off to Jewel, still having no idea what I was going to serve with it.  I was wandering around in a semi-lost daze when I started thinking about tropical/warm weather flavors because of the banana leaf.  The first thing that came to mind was coconut.  I figured that a Thai coconut rice would be a perfect tropical (and Asian) side dish to go along with the roasted fish.

I had two of the elements of the dish down (roasted fish and coconut rice), but I figured that I should have a sauce of some sort.  At first I started thinking about papaya or kiwi, but I didn't know what I could do with that.  I quickly shifted to thinking about oranges.  The idea began as an orange jelly, then morphed into an orange marmalade.  I picked up the oranges and lemons and checked out.  At some point after this, I scrapped the whole jelly/marmalade idea and settled on an orange-soy sauce.

I only had one bullet in my finding-a-banana-leaf gun, and that was the Asian market that is right next to the Jewel.  I also needed coconut milk, so I figured the worst case scenario is that I just skip the banana leaf (even though it was part of the main inspiration for the flavors).  Fortunately for me, they have the largest assortment of random stuff ever, so they had frozen banana leaves.  I purchased a package and headed home.

I opened the package of banana leaves to examine them.  It turns out they are about six feet long and about a foot wide.  There is a new champion in the "strangest thing in my freezer" contest.  Congratulations, banana leaves, you earned it.  If you are looking for a banana leaf, I would suggest checking your local Asian market.  Anyway, here is the recipe.  It really is quite easy.  Check it out and let me know how you feel about it.  I feel like this dish would work with any light colored fish, especially the somewhat tropical fish like mahi mahi.  By the way, this might be the best entrant in the Fish Tuesday Pantheon.

Grouper (serves 2)
2 fillets of grouper
1 banana leaf, cut into 3 pieces, each large enough to wrap totally around the fillets
kosher salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and put a baking sheet lined with a Silpat (or foil) in the oven.
2.  Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the fish.
3.  Put each fillet skin side down on the middle of a banana leaf piece.  Fold each end of the banana leaf onto the center of the flesh side of the fish.  Flip over and put the seam side of the banana leaf down.  Repeat for each piece of fish.
4.  Put the banana leaf and fish  packets seam side down on the baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes.  The banana leaf will turn mostly brown, but do not worry, the fish is protected.

Coconut Rice (serves 2)
1 cup jasmine rice
1 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup water
2 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
kosher salt.

1.  Put rice, coconut milk, water, and shredded coconut into a sauce pan.  Stir to combine.
2.  Put sauce pan over high heat until just boiling.
3.  Reduce heat to low and cover with a lid.  Continue cooking for 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed.  Note that you may want to stir it once in a while while covered to prevent it from sticking.
4.  Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.  Cover for 5 more minutes, then adjust to taste with salt.

2 cups orange juice
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 soy sauce

1.  Put the orange juice in a small sauce pan and put it over medium heat.
2.  Cook for about an hour until the sauce reduces by 3/4 and the orange juice gets dark and syrupy.
3.  Remove from heat and whisk in the butter until melted.
4.  Whisk in soy sauce, and keep warm until service.

To Assemble:  unwrap the fish from the banana leaf and put the banana leaf on the plate.  Put a large spoonful of coconut rice on the banana leaf and top with the fish.  Drizzle some sauce over the fish and serve.

The sauce really brings this dish together.  It is both sweet and a little citrusy.  It goes excellently with the coconut rice (which was a little too sweet to be honest).  I even think it would be a nice sauce to put on ice cream if you wanted to get real crazy.  Anyway, here is a picture of the dish.  I hope you give this one a shot!

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