For those of us who have been sheltering at home dreaming of dipping our toes in sandy shores, here's hoping this recipe of fish wrapped in banana leaf will palliate that wanderlust for the meantime, or at least pause it until we know when to resume any semblance of traveling, even if it is a visit to family. As we hurtle to the last quarter of this strange year, the only constant that remains is the joy of cooking, or baking. While news arrives one after the other, in parts outrageous, bizarre and comical, we take refuge in nourishment, because the act of preparing a meal is almost like alchemy, of being able to transform material, otherwise ordinary objects into something that provides sustenance for the stomach and the soul. There's nothing like warm, fragrant food to make us nostalgic and forget our sadness and worries, even for a moment.
It's best to thaw the fish at room temperature, at least an hour before marination. Look for a whole white fish like grouper or lapulapu, red snapper or sea bass; these can be roasted, baked, grilled or braised, soaked in aromatics, and can be paired with any kind of vegetables. With this recipe, I've used tomatoes and broccoli, as well as bell pepper and eggplants. It's really up to you and what you have in store. Banana leaf is easy to find, and not only can does it emit a gentle aroma that mixes with the fish and vegetables, it can also serve as a natural covering to hold in the sauce, instead of baking paper or parchment.
Baking time: 35 minutes
1 whole fish, red coral grouper or other white fish
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup oyster sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 small onion, thinly sliced
5-6 garlic cloves, thinly chopped
3 dried red chili
1 inch ginger, minced
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 large banana leaf, cut in half
1 stalk lemongrass: trim thick upper stem to use as a "toothpick" to seal banana leaf. Pound bottom bulb to release aroma
1 tomato, sliced in wedges
1 head of broccoli, cut into medium florets, or,
1 eggplant, cubed
1. Thaw fish. Place two sheets of banana leaf on top of a ceramic or glass baking pan. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, onion, red chili pepper, black pepper, brown sugar and lemon juice.
2. Place fish on top of a banana leaf. Slit vertical lines from the head to gills to tail. Pour marination into both sides of the fish, inserting some aromatics into the slits. Wrap the fish in banana leaf and secure with the firm end of lemongrass. A toothpick will do as well.
3. Bake fish at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes until roasted. Remove from oven. Arrange broccoli and tomato, or other vegetables on the sides of the fish, filling the pan. Pour remaining marination into the vegetables. Slightly open the banana leaf wrapping and pour olive oil into fish and vegetables. Return to oven and bake again for 15 minutes.