If the fish has already been cleaned, skip this step and go on to #2. To clean the fish: Lay it flat on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slice off about 1/4 inch strip from the underside of the fish - the section between the head and lower fin. Now slide your knife into this cut to open up the inner pocket of the fish. Using your index finger, reach in and pull out the guts from this pocket and discard. Then rinse the fish well with water, set aside, and do the same for the other fish.
Using a sharp knife, score the fish by making some vertical cuts (3-4) down both sides of the fish. Cut through the skin until your knife reaches the bone/ribs.
Squeeze lemon or lime juice over the fish, then sprinkle with salt.
Cut the banana leaf into 2 "sheets" large enough to wrap the fish individually. Place the fish in the center of the leaf and wrap (as if wrapping a present). To keep the leaf closed, simply turn it seam-side down. If you don't have banana leaf, wrap with tin foil.
To steam the fish: Place the wrapped fish directly in a bamboo steamer (or other type of steamer), seam-side up. Once in the steamer, open up the banana leaf or foil so that steam can penetrate the fish. Cover steamer with lid and steam on high heat for 10 minutes. Note: If your steamer is small, you will have to steam the fish one at a time, keeping the first one warm in the oven while you steam the second.
For baked fish: Place the banana leaf-wrapped fish in a glass casserole dish (uncovered) and bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 12-15 minutes. If using tin foil, you can place the wrapped fish (seam-side up) directly on your oven rack, or place in a dish if you're worried some of the juices may escape.
While fish is cooking, make the sauce by placing all sauce ingredients in a food processor or chopper (if you don't have one, simply mince everything as finely as possible and stir together). Process well.
Pour the sauce into a sauce pan and gently heat up. You needn't boil the sauce, just warm it through.
Do a taste test, adding more fish sauce if not salty enough, or more lemon/lime juice if too salty. If it's not spicy enough, add more fresh-cut chili.
You can serve this fish a number of ways. For casual dining: Leave the fish in the banana leaf (just pour off the extra juices). Carefully lift both fish and banana leaf (an egg lifter works well for this), and place them on a plate. Either pour the sauce over, or serve it separately, spooning it over the fish as you eat. Garnish with fresh basil, plus spring onions and fresh-cut chili, if desired.
For more formal occasions: Cut a fresh "sheet" of banana leaf. Rinse it off with hot water (this will clean it and "green it up"), pat dry, and place it on a plate. Lift the fish out of the used leaf and place on the fresh one, then pour the sauce over. Garnish with lemon or lime slices, plus fresh basil, spring onion or chili, if desired.
Go to Full Version of