Sunday, January 30, 2011

Indonesian Pepes Ikan Tacos with Mango Salsa

Ikan pepes is a traditional method of preparing fish throughout Indonesia.  The fish may be whole or  filleted, covered with a spice paste, wrapped in banana leaf and then steamed or grilled.  The paste keeps the fish moist and gives it a wonderful flavor.  Although banana leaves are used to wrap the fish in Indonesia, foil can be used if you don't have a Hispanic or Asian market from which to purchase frozen banana leaves in the US.

I decided to adapt a pepes ikan recipe for a twist on fish tacos.  The spice and heat of the pepes ikan makes perfect sense in a fish taco, and the mango salsa with jicama and daun laksa is one that could easily be made in Indonesia.  A drizzle of sambal kecap might have been an interesting addition; I'll try it with that next time I make these.

Unfortunately, today was a cold, rainy day more suited to a bowl of pozole than fish tacos.  They tasted good, but I was cold and wet from the grill, dreaming of white sand beaches while my feet were as cold as the coldest beer in Bali.  Fitting, perhaps, for a recipe entered in the Alaska fish taco contest.

1 12 oz package of Alaskan cod
6 shallots
3 cloves of garlic
2 slices of laos (galingal) about the size of quarters, peeled and chopped
2 slices of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped, using only lower third, tough outer layers removed
2 tsp sambal oelek (Indonesian chili paste)
4 kemiri (candle nuts)
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp vegetable oil
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced
banana leaves (or aluminum foil) for wrapping the fish

mango salsa
1 cup of mango, preferably fresh, diced
1 shallot,  small dice
1 to 2 red chilies, seeded and cut in small dice
1/2 small jicama, diced
1/4 cup of laksa leaves (Vietnamese rau ram) finely chopped
juice of 1/2 lime

red cabbage, finely sliced
avocado, sliced


Add the shallots, garlic, laos, ginger and lemongrass to a food processor with a metal blade and chop fine.  Add sambal, kemiri, turmeric, brown sugar, salt and lemon juice, blending to a fine paste.  Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the spice paste for several minutes until fragrant, but take care not to brown it. Remove the paste to a bowl and allow to cool.

On an 8 x 12 inch banana leaf (or aluminum foil) lay one fillet of cod.  Spread the fish with some of the cooled spice paste.  Turn it over and spread the other side.  Top the fillet with some of the sliced tomatoes.  Fold the banana leaf into a packet, using toothpicks to seal the folds. (If using banana leaves, it may be necessary to use two leaves to ensure your packet doesn't leak.) Follow the same procedure for the remaining fillets.

Grill on a medium-hot grill for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping the packet over  halfway through the cooking time. 

While the packets are being grilled, prepare the other elements.  Make the salsa by mixing together the ingredients in a bowl.  Add more lime juice if necessary.

To serve, slice open the grilled packets.  Slice off some fish from a packet and add it along with some slices of cherry tomatoes to a warmed tortilla.  Add some of the red cabbage and slices of avocado.  Top with some of the mango salsa.  Enjoy with Bir Bintang or a crisp lager.

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