Pepes is the Indonesian dish of any meat, mostly seafood, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. I usually grilled the pepes, the burnt banana leaves just give it a better texture. Any kind of fish can be used, mackerel is always a better choice since the flesh flaked just nicely after grilling.
I have to confess that I hate grilling. Our grill is the old fashioned one with old fashioned charcoal that almost impossibly to light up without a dash of gasoline. Even we would have to fan it using our old fashioned bamboo fan and the charcoal would fly and it is a huge mess. I cheat by grilling this on a grill pan on stove top burner.
This is very easy. Just blend the spices in a blender and smeared the fish with blended spices. Wrap each with banana leaves and fasten the ends with toothpicks. Heat the grill pan and arrange them on top. Put some weight on top so that the fish would be cooked evenly.
Serve these with coconut rice or nasi lemak.
Use small-to-medium mackerel. Head is optional. We get our fish from traditional market this way. It might be scary for those who aren’t used to having fish whole head to tail.
The spices used are the mandatory chili, lemongrass, candlenut, galangal, shallots, garlic, fresh turmeric and coriander seeds. These can be substituted with ground version of all. Candlenut can be omitted if not available. Use less chili if not fan of spicy food.
Combine spices in a blender, add some sugar and salt.
Grind them all to a fine paste.
Combine fish and spices in mixing bowl.
Let marinade for an hour or two.
Wrap them in banana leaves. Individually. Don’t do as I did, two fish in a bundle take a lot longer to cook.
Secure both ends with toothpicks.
The fish is ready for grilling.
My cheating way of grilling the fish. I use a cutting board to weigh the fish to ensure shorter cooking time.
When the leaves are burnt and wilted thoroughly, it is almost ready. It took me 10 minutes each side.
When you open up the little parcels of delight, the rich smell of burnt leaves and spices would be totally overwhelming. Serve this with plain steamed rice of coconut rice (nasi lemak).
Makes 6-8 servings
- 1 kg mackerel
- 8 shallots (50 g)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 5 candlenut
- 10 red chili (50 g)
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 2 cm galangal (30 g)
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cm fresh turmeric
- Banana leaves
Combine shallots, garlic, candlenut, chili, lemongrass, galangal, coriander seeds, fresh turmeric, salt and sugar in a blender.
Add 1/2 cup of water if necessary. Blend till fine paste.
Combine spice paste and fish in a mixing bowl.
Let marinade for 15-30 minutes.
Wrap fish individually in banana leaves and secure ends with toothpick.
Grill on preheated grill pan for 10 minutes each side.
Serve immediately with steamed rice and pickled cucumber and shallot.