Thai Style Halibut in Banana Leaf

I’ve been cooking a fair deal of Thai style dishes over the past while. I love the combination of creamy coconut, chilli heat, lemongrass freshness, fish sauce saltiness and the bite of a nice bit of lime. Add to that the delight (or disgust) of a handful of coriander and whatever meat or fish is going to act as the carrier and one has the perfect Thai delight. Or do you? I have wondered for a long time about cooking in banana leaf. What would it add? It looks the business. But will it make my dish any better? Let’s find out. 

As one might expect, the ingredients list is very typical of a Thai style dish.


  • 600 gms piece of halibut
  • 4 cm of galangal root
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 150 ml of coconut milk
  • 3 or 4 kafir lime leaves 
  • 1 banana shallot 
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Juice and zest of a lime or two
  • A big handful of coriander (cilantro)
  • A big banana leaf. 

As we are making a paste of sorts, the preparation is pretty straightforward. Peel and roughly chop the shallot, the lemongrass and the garlic. Peel and finely chop the galangal (it is pretty woody and needs fine slicing). Roughly chop the lime leaves, chilli and most of the coriander. Zest and juice the lime or limes. Put all of the above, the coconut milk and the fish sauce into a blender and hit the loud button. Skin the fish and divide into portion size pieces. 

We needed one pouring shot in the recipe. I think I need a new blender. This one is cracking up.

Side note on the sauce: This is a fantastic blend of Thai flavours. Even if you don’t have any banana leaves, make the sauce and steam your fish or use it as a base for a chicken or fish curry. It’s delicious. 

Place the fish pieces into the paste mixture and cover well. Give the banana leaf a good washing and cut pieces large enough to wrap each serving of the fish. Get some kitchen string. Gently wrap the fish in the banana leaf and tie up a neat parcel.

They do look pretty elegant in the old steamer.

Place the parcels into a steamer and steam for fifteen minutes While this is going on, make up some Thai fragrant rice. When you open the parcel, you will be greeted with a lovely sight and some delightful aromas. This is a lovely and novel way to serve a Thai inspired dish. 

A pretty spectacular looking dish, if I say so myself.

So, the question. Was it worth the expense (a little expense) and the hassle (a little hassle) of getting and preparing the banana leaf parcels? The answer is yes and no. Yes, it was a novel way to serve the fish. Yes, it looks great and it adds a bit of theatre. No, I wouldn’t be bothered doing it on a weeknight after work. But, that sauce, it is so easy to prepare and it is a complete delight. Get cooking!

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Latest comments
  • Hali’ me Banana

  • Just love the look of the coconut milk going atop those beautifully arranged sauce ingredients ! Perfect pouring shot ! Perfect inspiration ! Have everything bar the banana leaf at home and you have just raised my appetite to prepare this . . . if I can’t filch a leaf or two off a friend’s tree down the road I’ll make this the ‘boring way’ ! Tomorrow !! . . . Very odd question – would the cutlery you are using actually be Thai . . . ’cause I have a set, not quite as modern, but of the same ‘family’ it seems . . . there is something about that fish knife . . . 🙂 ?

  • This is one of those occasions where I irritatingly say “If only you lived closer, Conor, I’d give you as many banana leaves as you wanted”, or offer you turmeric, lemongrass, ginger or galangal from the back yard. Never mind. You have the venison, the beautiful cold water fish and the access to the exotica that isn’t available in North Queensland. It’s a beautiful dish you have there, sir, you’re making my mouth water and it’s only 7am…

      • That’s the thing though: what’s ‘cucina povera’ in one country is exotica in another. Those ingredients grow easily, like weeds, and the flavour profile has grown out of what was available close at hand. Reverse the situation, and the beautiful ‘wild’ foods of the Northern Hemisphere (hare and pheasant, wild berries and mushrooms, samphire and oysters) are just as exotic.

  • Years ago I went though a banana leaf cooking phase, but I had a banana tree in my backyard then. But, I never tried fish or any Thai dishes. It looks great and if I had access now to a banana leaf i’d have a go at it. But as I love the sound of the sauce and the wrapped and steamed method, I’ll soon try the dish but with loosely wrapped and tied baker’s paper.

  • I do admire your willingness to go the extra mile—and then some—Conor, to try out something new. Banana leaves are actually fairly easy to source in these parts, with our fairly sizable Latino population. May give this a go!

  • I live in tropical Florida but there isn’t a banana tree in sight so I’m happy to know that the I won’t be missing any flavor profile if I wrap the fish in parchment. Love all those Thai flavors.

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