B.C. Halibut in Banana Leaf with Curry

“It’s just big on flavours, textures and also has sort of a “wow” presentation when you open it up. The steam rises and, if you cook it perfectly, when you unwrap it you have this beautiful coconut base sauce on the bottom with aromatics, coriander seed, chili and cilantro. So all of that comes together and then we do sort of a Middle-Eastern spin on our rice with sumac, cumin, lemon, olive oil and sweet potato. When you put that all together it’s still one of my favourite things to eat.” – Chef Mark McEwan

  • By Mark McEwan
  • October 27, 2015
Image Author: James Tse


    12 banana leaves

    4tbsp (60ml) olive oil

    6 BC halibut fillets, about 5 oz (150g) each, preferably skinless

    2 tbsp (30ml) chopped parsley

    ¼ cup (50ml) clarified butter

    18 to 24 roasted sugar beets, halved

    3 medium leeks, white part only, sliced ¼-in (5mm) thick, steamed and cooled

    18 to 24 saffron pearl onions

    1 orange

    1 lemon

    1 large piece lemongrass, cut into six ½-in (1cm) discs, pounded with a hammer

    18 sprigs cilantro

    6 small sprigs thyme

    6 small sprigs parsley

    1 small ginger bulb, peeled and julienned

    12 fresh Thai chilies, spilt and seeded

    6 tbsp (90 ml) butter

    1 can (12 oz/400ml) coconut milk



    Dry Rub

    ½ tbsp (7ml) coriander seeds, toasted and crushed

    ½ tsp (2ml) cracked black pepper

    Pinch each of ground cumin, curry powder and salt

    Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C)

    1. With a very sharp knife carefully trim the rib from the edge of each banana leaf, cutting it off in as thin a strip as possible. Reserve (you will use it as string later). Then trim the other edges so as to shape each leaf into a 12-inch (30cm) square. Moisten a paper towel with a little of the oil and wipe the leaves along the grain to give them a pleasant sheen. Stack the leaves in pairs arranged so that their grains run perpendicular.

    2. Combine the ingredients for the dry rub and sprinkle it over the top of the fish fillets. Combine the remaining oil and the parsley in a platter or baking dish, and then gently roll the halibut fillets in it to coat. Heat the clarified butter in a large, heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fillets seasoned side down, quickly searing them until they acquire some colour. Return fillets uncooked side down to the dish with the oil and parsley and set aside.

    3. At the centre of each set of banana leaves, arrange a small mélange of vegetables: beet halves (or segments if large), leek slices, and pearl onions. Place a fillet of fish on top, seared side up. Zest the lemon and orange overtop. Add a piece of lemongrass. Tie together six herb bundles, combining in each 3 sprigs of cilantro, 1 sprig each thyme and parsley, 6 batonets of ginger, and 2 chilies. Place one on top of each fillet. Top each package with 1 tbsp (15ml) butter. Shake coconut milk well and pour about ¼ cup (50 ml) over each fish. Add a pinch of salt, then seal each package tightly, folding the leaf edges as if wrapping paper around a gift, and using the strapping as a ribbon to tie it shut.

    4. Place the packages on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Cooking time varies considerably with the thickness of the fish. After about 20 minutes, insert a meat thermometer through the top of a package. The fish is done when the temperature reads 135 F (58 C). Cut the packages open at the table and remove the lemongrass and herb bundles.

    Roasted Beets

    1lb (450g) young variegated beets (golden, candy cane, white, red cylinder, etc.)

    1 tbsp (30ml) olive oil

    3 cloves garlic, smashed

    3 or 4 sprigs thyme

    Salt and pepper

    Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C)

    1. Scrub beets well – do not trim, peel or halve them or the colours will bleed. Spread a sheet of foil on a work surface. Cluster the beets in a single layer at the centre. Drizzle with olive oil. Scatter garlic and thyme overtop and season well. Create an envelope with the foil, seal it tightly, and wrap in a second layer of foil. Roast until the beets are tender-anywhere from 45 minutes for 2-Iinch (5cm) beet to nearer 2 hours for large ones (to test, protect your hand with an oven mitt or kitchen cloth and give them a squeeze through the foil).

    2. Let the beets cool for 10 minutes before unwrapping the package. As soon as the beets have cooled enough to touch, peel them (the skin will come off like wet paper). Trim, and cut or slice as desired.

    Saffron Pearl Onions 

    2 small pinches saffron threads

    1 package (10 oz/284g) pearl onions

    2 tsp (10ml) olive oil

    Pinch each of salt and pepper

    Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C)

    1. Add 1 pinch of saffron to 1 cup (250ml) warm water and set aside to steep. Blanch the onions in boiling salted water for 20 seconds, then shock in ice water. Drain, and then carefully trim and peel them. In a small oven proof skillet over low to medium heat, heat the oil. Gently cook the onions, shaking the pan regularly to prevent blistering and scorching. When they become lightly bronzed, add the remaining pinch of saffron threads followed by about 2 tbsp (30ml) of the steeped saffron tea. Shake the pan well and then transfer it to the oven. Braise the onions until they are tender and thoroughly saffron-coloured-15 to 20 minutes. Monitor carefully: shake the pan regularly, and water the liquid threatens to evaporate, add another 2 tbsp (30ml) of saffron tea. Season lightly.

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