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Striped Bass Grilled in Banana Leaves

Striped Bass Grilled in Banana Leaves
For this Thai dish, you need banana leaves that are 6 inches longer and three times wider than each fish.

Ingredients:

For the spice paste:

  • 6 large garlic cloves, halved
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, 1 inch long, peeled
  • 3 Tbs. fresh cilantro roots or stems
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. whole peppercorns, cracked
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. Chinese light soy sauce
  • 2 whole striped bass, sea bass, red snapper or trout, each about 1 1/2 lb., heads and tails intact
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed, crushed and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 2 large banana leaves, or more if needed
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil, or as needed

For the garlic-lime sauce:

  • 4 green serrano chilies, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro

Directions:

To make the spice paste, in a mortar or in a blender, combine the garlic, ginger, cilantro roots, salt and peppercorns. Grind with a pestle or blend until a smooth paste forms. Stir in the soy sauce. Set aside.

Rinse the fish under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Make 3 diagonal slashes, about 2 inches apart, almost to the bone across both sides of each fish. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavities with the lemongrass, dividing evenly, and rub the spice paste inside both fish.

Bring a pot three-fourths full of water to a boil. Dip each banana leaf into the water until softened, about 4 seconds. Wipe dry. Set the leaves, glossy sides down, on a work surface and brush the centers with the oil. Place 1 fish in the center of each banana leaf. Fold the long sides up and over the fish so they overlap in the middle and secure with toothpicks. Fold the ends over to enclose the sides and thread toothpicks into the leaves to make a neat packet. If the leaves tear, wrap with extra leaves.

Prepare a fire in a grill.

Meanwhile, prepare the garlic-lime sauce: In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the chilies, garlic, shallot, broth, sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, stir to combine and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to a light syrup, about 3 minutes. Let cool and mix in the lime juice and cilantro. Transfer to a bowl.

When the coals are hot, place the fish packets on the grill rack and grill, turning with tongs every 3 to 4 minutes. The total cooking time is about 15 minutes. The fish should sizzle constantly while cooking. To check for doneness, carefully remove a fish packet from the grill. Using scissors, snip the banana leaf lengthwise along the center to open the packet. The fish should be opaque; if not, rewrap and continue cooking.

Serve hot with the garlic-lime sauce.
Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Asian Flavors, by Joyce Jue (Time-Life Books, 1999).