Keralan banana leaf-wrapped fish

Keralan banana leaf-wrapped fish

By
From
I Love India
Serves
2-4
Photographer
Martin Poole

This is a really popular way of cooking fish in Kerala. They use a whole flat fish, which they slash to the bone on either side. I have used a butterflied fish here, but you can also use 2 fillets sandwiched together. The banana leaf adds a flavour and smokiness. You can buy banana leaves in some Asian stores, but not all, so check before you make a trip. You can also cook these in foil. This is a mild tomato-based dish with those typical Keralan flavours that work so well with fish. You can make this up earlier in the day and then just barbecue it to heat through. You can also cook these on a griddle pan.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient

For the marinade

Quantity Ingredient
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 rounded teaspoon finely grated root ginger
1 rounded teaspoon finely grated garlic
11/2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt
reshly ground black pepper

For the fish

Quantity Ingredient
2 small sea bream, cleaned and butterflied, or 4 sea bream fillets, or even whole fish, if you prefer
1 tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil
1 large banana leaf, tough stalk removed,, cut into large rectangles (heat on the hob to make it pliable)
lime wedges, to serve

For the masala paste

Quantity Ingredient
1 tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small red onion, finely chopped
11/4 tablespoon finely chopped root ginger
2-4 green chillies, stalks removed, pierced with a knife
10 fresh curry leaves
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
11/2 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
2 medium-small tomatoes, chopped

Method

  1. Mix together all the marinade ingredients. Season well and add ½ tsp black pepper to it. Add the fish (if using whole fish, slash it deeply on each side first) and leave to marinate for 30–60 minutes.
  2. Now make the masala paste. Heat the coconut oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, once they start to pop, add the onion and ginger, green chillies, curry leaves and some seasoning and cook until the onions have softened. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or until the onions are browning a little. Add the ground spices, tomatoes and a splash of water and cook over a high-ish flame until the masala releases oil into the pan, around 10 minutes. It should look like a paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a good grinding of black pepper. Scrape into a bowl and set aside. Give the pan a wipe.
  3. Now add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil into the pan, add the fish, skin side down, and cook over a medium-high heat until crisp and lightly brown, around 1 minute, then turn over and cook for another 30–40 seconds on this side.
  4. When you are ready to eat, smear ¼ of the masala on a banana leaf, place the fish on top and top with a similar amount of the paste. Repeat with the other fish. Enclose each fish, envelope style, in a leaf, there should be enough leaf wrapped around to keep it secure, but you can also secure the parcels with some wet twine or toothpicks.
  5. When you are ready to cook, preheat the barbecue. Place the banana leaf parcels on the barbecue rack and cook for 2–3 minutes on each side if cooking from room temperature, or closer to 5 minutes on each side if cooking from chilled. If you are using whole fish, it will take longer to cook. The banana leaf will char in places. Serve with some lime wedges.
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