POMPANO STEAMED IN BANANA LEAF OVER VEGETABLES
The first time I had this dish was at the Thai Cafe on California Street in San Francisco in 1980. I literally shed a tear of happiness over this dish. I had never had anything better before in my life. There are several variations of this dish. It is kin to a fish mousse in French cuisine, but, then again it’s not.
4 dried chilies
1 stalk lemon grass
6 large leaves basil, use holy or purple basil
if it is available, for a slight cinnamon or anise taste
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped=2 cloves
1 shallot, chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon soy sauce
10 Sichwan peppercorns crushed
4 tablespoons coconut cream: get this by scooping
the cream off the top when you open the can.
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 ounces pompano, cut in thin 1 inch pieces
1 banana leaf. Buy more if you’re nervous and it’s the first time.
2 limes, zested on grater, use the zest.
10 medium leaves spinach
Cut and discard the seeds from the chilies. Chop and soak the chilies in hot water.
Use the bottom three inches of the lemon grass, peel away the tough outer skin and slice crosswise as thin as you can.
In your mortar, or food processor, make a paste from the drained chilies, garlic, shallot, lemon grass, turmeric, soy and peppercorns. Remove to mixing bowl.
Add coconut cream, sugar, and the fish. Stir so that it is well mixed and pasty. Set aside.
Cut the banana leaves into 8 X 11 inch rectangles. Cut two more rectangles at 3 X 5 inches. Cut six long thin, string-like strips of banana leaf for tying the packets. Set the large leaves on a cutting board, shiny side down. Place small leaves inside large leaves. Divide and stack spinach on each, then stack basil leaves on top of spinach.
Go back to the fish mix (it is a curry). Stir in the lime zest. Divide the mix between the banana leaves. Fold the edges of the leaves over so that each overlaps in the center.
You will have a tube shape. Now, fold the ends over to close it. Turn each over. Lay the strings down, three per pack on the cutting board. Set the packets on top of the strings.
Tie it up. Not too thick, you don’t want to squeeze out the mix.
Fill the bottom of the wok with water, set the steamer of top of the water. Bring to furious, propulsive boil. Place packets in steamer rack. Cover. Cook ten minutes. No more, no less. At the end of that time, lift the steamer off of the pan and set it aside. With a spatula, and be careful, lift the packets off of the steamer and place on vegetables.
It is also very easy to just lay this on the rack in a high heat ceramic smoker grill like a Big Green Egg.
A Whisper In My Life
Everything is poetry,
there is nothing before
and there is nothing after,
every kiss and every shout,
even when I walk across the dining room floor,
even when I don’t know what It’s all about,
like the waking and the snores,
like a hot shower or hot at work,
everything is poetry
and nothing bores.