“I have one word for this recipe — incredible! It’s worth tracking down the ingredients to create this delicious wrapped fish cooked over coals. We do need to tell you that Cheong Liew is an avid gardener, so the chillies he mentions are just at his fingertips. If the chillies are hard to source, substitute a variety of chillies for different fragrances and heat. The type of fish sauce Cheong uses is the highest grade made in Vietnam, and is sometimes a little tricky to track down in Australia.” Maeve O'Meara, Food Safari Fire
- 1 whole flathead or other firm white-fleshed fish
- 5 cm (2 in) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
- salt and white pepper
- 1 tbsp Phu Quoc fish sauce
- 1 tbsp white rice wine
- 3 salted plums, seeded and pulp chopped (optional)
- juice of 1 lime or lemon (add to plum pulp if used)
- 1 tbsp rice bran or vegetable oil (see Note)
- banana leaves to wrap the fish, wiped with a damp cloth
- 1 lemongrass stem, halved, bruised and finely sliced
- 7 cm (2¾ in) fresh turmeric, finely sliced
- 5 cm (2 in) galangal, finely sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- 6 bird’s eye chillies, sliced
- 4 Indian-style green chillies (long and thin), sliced
- 5 red chillies, sliced
- 1 aji amarillo, sliced
- 5 French shallots, thinly sliced
- handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 banana capsicum (banana pepper), roughly chopped
- 2 turmeric leaves, finely sliced
- 2 cinnamon basil sprigs
- wet string to truss the fish
- garlic chives, coarsely chopped, and edible orchid flowers to garnish
- 80 g (2¾ oz) tamarind pulp, soaked with 100 ml (3½ fl oz) warm water, squeezed and juice strained
- 1 tbsp finely chopped torch ginger (available from Asian stores)
- 2 tsp roasted belachan (shrimp paste)
- 10 French shallots, sliced
- 4 Indian green chillies, sliced
- 4 Indian red chillies, sliced
- 1 aji amarillo, sliced
- 10 red and yellow cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced
- juice of 3 limes
- 6 Vietnamese mint leaves (laksa leaf), finely chopped
- handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
If you're cooking over fire, prepare the charcoal first — you want to heat it until the coals are white. Alternatively, you can bake in a preheated 160°C (320°F) oven.
Clean and gut the fish, making sure that the blood along the bones is washed off and the gills in the head are removed. Rinse the fish and score on both sides.
Place the ginger in the cavity and under the gills and season all over with salt and white pepper. Drizzle with fish sauce, rice wine, lemon or lime juice (or salted plums with lemon or lime juice if using) and oil (see Note).
Heat the banana leaves over the grill to soften slightly — this will make them more pliable.
Place the fish on the banana leaves and pour over any excess marinade.
Sprinkle over the lemongrass, turmeric, galangal, garlic, chillies, shallots, cherry tomatoes, banana capsicum, turmeric leaves and cinnamon basil.
Cover the fish with a couple of layers of banana leaves and wrap firmly, skewering in place, then truss with wet string to form a parcel.
Cook for about 15–20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes (the cooking time depends on the size of the fish). Alternatively, it will take approximately 30–40 minutes to bake in the oven.
Meanwhile to make the tamarind salsa, mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. If your salsa needs a little more liquid, add a little still mineral water.
When the fish is cooked, remove the string and unwrap the banana leaves.
Garnish with garlic chives and orchid flowers, drizzle with oil and serve with tamarind salsa.
• Cheong actually uses what he calls a ‘cooked oil’ — rice bran oil cooked with spring onion (scallion) tops until crispy.
Photography by Toufic Charabati.