An umu (also known as a lovo or hāngi) is a popular traditional method of cooking throughout the Pacific Islands. This recipe will help you achieve the signature taste of umu-cooked fish in your home kitchen, without the need to dig up the backyard!






Skill level

Average: 4.4 (14 votes)


  • 1 x 4 kg fish – your choice of fish (I have used grouper, but you can substitute with your favourite large whole fish, such as snapper or coral trout, available at a good fishmonger)
  • 6 large banana leaves – enough to wrap the fish with two layers
  • 200 ml smoky barbecue sauce
  • salt and pepper, to season
  • ¼ bunch dill
  • ¼ bunch parsley
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 large hessian sack (you can obtain these inexpensively from a coffee-roaster)

Coconut sauce

  • 1 litre coconut cream (avoid canned coconut cream if possible)
  • 1 medium brown onion
  • 1 medium vine-ripened tomato
  • 3–4 green chillies, to taste
  • 1 lime
  • 1 fresh coconut, grated

Cook's notes

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.


Warning Ensure the hessian is completely saturated to avoid a fire hazard. Do not attempt with a gas oven. If the hessian dries out, add more water to keep it moist at all times.

Soak the hessian sack in water for 2 hours.

Season the fish with salt and pepper all over, rubbing thoroughly into the fish.

Massage in the chopped herbs, then splash the smoky barbecue sauce all over the fish.

Lay the fish down on the banana leaves and wrap thoroughly, ensuring it is fully covered.

Cover the banana leaves with the saturated hessian sack and place into a large roasting tray. Place in the oven on high. A four-kilogram fish will take approximately 1½ hours.

To make the coconut sauce, deseed the tomato and remove the excess flesh from the inside, leaving only the petal of the tomato. Slice the tomato and onion into a fine dice. Finely chop the chillies.

Combine chillies, tomato and onion in a bowl with the coconut cream. Add a pinch of pepper and salt. Mix well.

Once cooked, remove the fish from the oven and carefully lift it out of the roasting tray. Cover with grated coconut and serve with coconut sauce.