I love cooking fish in banana leaves. The leaves impart a delicate earthy flavor to the fish and create a beautiful presentation. It is a salivating “WOW!” moment when you peel back the leaves at the table and the aromatic steam escapes, and travels under the noses of fellow diners. This recipe also features tomatillos, which have a crisp acidic flavor that pairs beautifully with fish. Look for banana leaves in the nearest Asian grocery store. Once you find them, buy a bunch and keep them in the freezer. The banana leaves can be omitted and you will still be rewarded with a delicious, beautiful and oh-so aromatic fish. —wanderash
very fresh whole fish, 1-11/2 pounds
med tomatillos, husked, cleaned and thinly sliced
leeks, thinly sliced into rounds
cumin seed, toasted and ground
large guajillo chili, or New Mexico chili
limes, zest then cut into wedges
unsalted butter, thinly sliced
black pepper, freshly ground
banana leaves, optional
In This Recipe
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
To toast the guajillo chili, pour oil into a small sauté pan, about 1 inch deep. When the oil is hot place the chili in the pan, turn it after a few seconds, toast all sides. Have tongs in hand, because they will go from toasted to burned very quickly! Set aside on paper towels to cool. Once it is cooled, remove and discard the steam the seeds, and cut it into 1” squares.
Wash the fish inside and out and pat dry. Make three to four deep diagonal slashes on each side of the fish. Liberally season the fish with salt and pepper, inside and out. Slather the lime zest and cumin all over the fish as well, making sure to get it into the slashes.
Place two pieces of aluminum foil side by side on your work surface. If you are using the banana leaves, place them overlapping, on top of the foil. They will be easier to work with if you remove the rib of the leaf. Place the fish on top of the leaves in a diagonal.
Season the tomatillos and leeks with salt, then stuff half of the tomatillos, leeks and guajillos and 1 tablespoon of butter inside of the fish. Top the fish with the remaining half of the ingredients.
Tightly wrap the leaves around the fish. Finally, wrap the foil around the fish, tucking in the ends to seal the package well.
Bake on a baking sheet for 30 to 40 minutes.
The presentation is up to you—I like to remove the foil and place the banana leaf- wrapped fish on a platter, unveil it and filet it tableside. Alternatively, you could place a small square of banana leaf on each plate and filet and serve it from the kitchen on to the individual plates. Whichever way you slice it, heap the tomatillos, leeks and chilis on top of each filet, spoon the juices over the mound of goodness and serve with lime wedges.
My love for all things delicious lead me to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and three years of working in restaurants and wineries in Napa Valley. My love of travel has propelled me all over the world. After living in Honduras and Mexico for the past 5 yrs., my two children, super-hero husband, and I have just moved to the Midwest....... A new chapter is unfolding....