Grilled Whole Fish on Banana Leaf

Grilled Whole Fish Recipe

There are times when I should just shrug my shoulders in defeat, lay the camera down and just go make myself a Bloody Mary. Only after the first sip would I grab a blank sheet of paper, a black sharpie marker and just draw you a picture of my dish. Because there is no such thing as a good-looking dead fish:

Grilled Whole Fish Recipe

This yellowtail snapper just doesn’t look so happy. Ok. I know, I know. He’s not chipper because he’s fucking dead. But I’d like to think that in my cheerful little sunshiney world, my food wants to be eaten. Am I so arrogant to believe that this fish wiggled its little tail for years, dreaming of the perfect blend of spices that would enhance his natural sweetness? Debating with his schoolmates on which cooking technique brings out his nutty flavor and flaky texture: grilling or steaming?

Well, I hope I made this little guy proud – I opted for simple, smoky and grilled. After cleaning the whole fish, I stuffed him with fresh herbs from the garden and a generous sprinkling of Maldon Sea Salt, a gift from Melinda and Dani (which by the way is now the favorite salt in the Steamy Kitchen. poor Kosher got knocked up by Cumin in a scandalous threesome orgy with Paprika. they have all been punished and are banned to the back of the cupboard until further notice. Pepper’s pretty pissed.)

Grilling the whole fish on the banana leaf does 2 things:

  1. Prevents the fragile fish from sticking to the grill grates
  2. Adds a mellow smoky, sweet flavor to the fish

You can purchase banana leaves at most Asian and Latin supermarkets – look for them in the frozen section. If you don’t have banana leaf, you can simple use a couple sheets of tin foil.

Grilled Whole Fish Recipe


Grilled Whole Fish on Banana Leaf

Servings: Prep Time: Cook Time:
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 1.14.31 PM


1 whole fish
sea salt & pepper
a handful of fresh herbs (I used Thai basil and cilantro)
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1-3 banana leaves (about 3x larger than your fish) or double layer of tin foil
lemon wedges


Preheat your BBQ grill on high for 15 minutes.
If you are using frozen banana leaf, defrost in sink in warm water, unfold.

1. Clean your whole fish: Have your fishmonger scale and gut the fish for you. Its a messy business to scale a fish in your home kitchen sink! Even though your fishmonger gutted the fish for you - here's an important tip. The lining of the gut area is very fishy tasting and smelling. Usually, the thin membrane is still attached. Just use the tip of the knife to scrape the tough membrane lining and pull it out. Sometimes the color is white, sometimes it is pinkish. After cleaning, with sharp knife, slash fish diagonally 3 times per side to allow it to cook more evenly (which I totally forgot to do in my photo).

2. Season & stuff the whole fish: Season fish inside with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Stuff with fresh herbs - stems and all. Use twine to tie the fish so that the herbs don't fall out during grilling. Brush both sides of fish with cooking oil. Season outside with sea salt and pepper.

3. Grill: When the grill is hot, lay the banana leaf on the grate and gentlly place fish in the middle of the leaf. You can use multiple layers if you want. The leaf will curl and char into a wonderfully smoky brown color. Grill 6-10 minutes then carefully flip fish with a large spatula and grill another 6-10 minutes. My 1.5 pound fish took about 8 minutes per side. Check doneness by checking the thickest part of the fish - meat should separate easily and be flaky. Serve with lemon wedges.


Back home!

Riding the bus in Beijing traffic was a scary experience so Scott (husband) decided it was best we arranged our own ride.

It’s good to be back home after 14 days of adventure, 10 airplanes, 9 buses, 4 hotels, 1 cruise ship and a canoe.We had the most amazing and memorable times – I can’t wait to share photos with you! Still sorting through my 1,000+ photos (thank goodness for a digital camera!). I’ll quickly share one moment with you – The Great Wall. The climb up was easy. We were warned not to be “heroes” and climb too far up.

“Aw…that warning is for wimps! I want to take a picture at the top!” So off I went up, up, up.

What the tour guide left out was the reason for the warning….you’ve gotta come all the way back down!

The steps were uneven and steep – which made it really hard. I had to hold the handrails and go slowly all the way back down.

Small tiny steps….GOOD!

Big fat steps….BAD!

Halfway down, I got tired and got passed by an older lady who let go of the railing to pass me and then looked back at me totally annoyed. Scott was there to capture the moment.

OUCH! I got pwned by that lady!Β  WTF?!?!


Missing Saffron Winner?

Threemilechild….you have 24 hours to contact me with your address before I pick another Saffron winner! All of you who entered the contest – stay tuned – you could be the alternate winner!

Our next drawing is for Vanilla Beans! Start thinking of your favorite recipe that includes vanilla. Easy, huh? I’ll post the contest in the next couple of days.

PBS Show

Was soooooo good! Had a party 6 hours after we landed – thank you to everyone who came to watch the show!! Can’t wait to post the clip. Thank you to WEDU PBS and The Gulf Coast Journal with Jack Perkins for making one of my dreams come true!! Onward to the next adventure!


More seafood recipes:

Chinese Steamed Fish

Pecan Crusted Tilapia with Honey Glaze

Killer Cajun Shrimp

Did not load Widget Area 5

Comments 74

  1. blondee47

    i have banana leaves in my freezer for what, i dunno but now i do…only problem is how do i peel apart the fish without bones?

    ps your sechuan salt is the one i am using for practically everything now….

  2. Dan

    That’s a damn yummy looking snapper you’ve got there… Of course, what do you think the odds are that I’ll be able to find some banana leaves here in Wisconsin… in fall… in the dark?

    Other than that, it looks like you had a blast in China. Sorry about the old lady passing you, but, since it’s still a Communist country, there’s a pretty good chance she’s been taking performance-enhancing steroids.

  3. veron

    Welcome back!. And yes there’s no such thing as a good looking dead fish . I’ll remember your tips if and when I decide to make the trip to the great wall.

  4. Marvin

    Welcome back J! What’s the weather like in China this time of year? From your pictures, it doesn’t look too hot or too cold.

  5. Jaded

    Haha this post cracked me up. Your and your husbands facial expressions are great! Welcome back πŸ™‚ Glad to have you back here to make more posts!

  6. radish

    I actually think the fish looks awesome – a good picture, but then again, I once grossed out vegetarians sitting next to me at a Thair restaurant by ordering a whole fried fish and exclaiming “Oh, cool, look it’s still got its eyes!!”

  7. Elise

    Hi Jaden – that is the best photo of a grilled whole fish I’ve ever seen. Love the composition, the angle, the lighting, the green banana leaves on the red table cloth. Here’s a photo I took of a grilled fish I took this summer. You think your fish is ugly? Hah!

  8. Lydia

    Welcome home! The climb down from the Great Wall looks horrible! But your dead fish doesn’t look so bad — you are one amazing photographer.

  9. LunaPierCook

    That’s one good-looking dead fish! When he was modeling for you, did he work for scale? πŸ˜‰

    Good to have you back, dear, it’s been pretty boring watching this blog of yours do absolutely nothing …

  10. Meryl

    Hey Jaden~

    I stumbled across your blog about a month ago, and I have to tell you, you have the best writing voice. It is hysterical. Love all your posts and your photographs!

  11. Krizia

    Jaden! Welcome back πŸ™‚ Dude, I can make any fish look like a supermodel. I’ll prove it in one of my posts these days. Props to your hubs for capturing priceless moments during your trip πŸ˜€ Can’t wait to see the rest of the pics!! Sort, Sort, Sort! and then Post, Post, Post!

  12. Mercedes

    I think the fish looks beautiful, even if it is dead πŸ˜‰ By the way, banana leaves can also be found at hispanic markets (think banana leaf tamales). If you can’t find banana leaves, leaves from other edible-fruit trees can work like fig leaves or lotus leaves.

  13. Suji

    Yayyy You are back! The first and last pictures are a hoot. Let me be honest here for a second;). As soon as I saw the picture of you in the rick-shaw, I said, “Wait these cute guys pull them in China. I gotta go then”. And then I found that’s your husband… oh well ! πŸ˜‰

    Question? If I use frozen banana leaves.. Just thaw and use it or do I have to take any extra precautions?

    I love me some dead fish :), don’t care how they look πŸ˜‰

  14. Nate 2.0


    welcome back! Looking forward to those 1,000 pics you took.

    The grilled fish looks awesome – nothing wrong with it at all!

  15. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy

    Poor little fish, I think it looks good anyway!

    You’re hilarious! Ha! I can only imagine you stopping on the Great Wall, posing for that picture and then saying to people around you, “But, it’s for my blog!” πŸ™‚

  16. Big Boys Oven

    Was that a threesome straight, bi or gay orgy? I better get sugar in to enhance the situatuion!

    Lovely pictures and lucky you, as you had your hubby given you a ride.

  17. SteamyKitchen

    Blondee- I’m not sure I understand your question. I even had a glass of wine, re-read and still don’t get it!!!

    Jim- up and down, diagonally.

    Marvin- this is the perfect time of the year to visit. It was about 60-70F.

    Elise- dude. that is one fugly fish!

    LPC- awww…thank u!

    Mercedes- great tip!

    Suji- LOL!! Thaw first, unfold and wipe dry.

  18. Wandering Chopsticks

    I saw some photos of Josh Hartnett climbing the Great Wall a few weeks before you. You could’ve had a celebrity sighting! Your expression is hilarious. Wimp! I can’t believe you let an old lady pass you! πŸ˜›

  19. catalina

    Welcome back!
    In Manila (where almost every backyard—yours or neighbor’s— has banana plants) we grill fish IN banana leaf: stuff the belly and head with chopped tomato and onion, then wrap the fish in banana leaf twice over (no need to truss the fish with twine). Try lining your skillet with a banana leaf (cut round) next time you make a frittata–and get the same minty-smoky flavor imparted by the banana leaf.
    Looking forward to more photos of your trip to China, especially with the little boys.

  20. karen meg

    Welcome home – that fish looks simply superb! I like them dead too (don’t tell my girlie who loves checking out the live ones at the market). I’ll have to try it.
    Hilarious photos of China so far BTW. Maybe you and hubby should get a rickshaw for home – he looks like he’s quite good at that chauffeuring thing.
    Wasn’t the Wall spectacular? I couldn’t get over how short the guys who built it must have been – some of the arches I could barely fit under. I also like your look of utter shock on the steps – those older Chinese women need lessons in Wall steps etiquette, let me tell ya! πŸ™‚

  21. Dani

    Jayden – So good to have you back! The fish looks great…I’m happy that you are enjoying the salt. I just signed up for your dim sum class in SoCal and am really looking forward to meeting you!

  22. Katie

    You need to read Douglas Adam’s “Restaurant at the End of the Universe” and get the cows description of which parts of him are best. Too bad about pepper!
    Fantastic trip – I am soooo jealous!

  23. threemilechild

    Eeks. I replied to the email, and it didn’t tell me it bounced. I’m trying again from my gmail account, instead. (Maybe gmail saw “You won X contest” and decided it was spam?)

  24. lynn

    So glad you had a wonderful, fabulous trip and arrived safely home. I’m looking forward to more pictures. I had to laugh at the pics of you getting dusted by the little old lady.

  25. Carol

    It’s great to have you back, Jaden! Love the pic of you and Scott on the trishaw(?) and your expression in the photo after the one with the ol’ lady is PRICELESS! HAHA!
    I think your fish looks absolutely delish – dead is always good in my books, I don’t like sashimi!

  26. Neece

    Oh Jaden, you always bring a smile to my face. Welcome Back! Those pictures are great, especially of that older woman pwning you. And the fish, well, we can’t all be happy with our lot in life, I guess. So you did him a favor by eating him. I never knew about banana leaves, so thanks for teaching me something new, as usual.

  27. Cecilia

    teeehehehehehuahahahahahahaha … I can’t stop myself from laughing at that ‘look’ on ya face when you found out that you got pwned by an old lady! I haf to say, she doesn’t really look like a FRIENDLY type of person from the pic …

    Ahem, onto other things! WELCOME BACK jaden!!! Good to know that you had a good trip in China! I’m sooo jealous!! πŸ˜‰ Yum looking fish you got there!! I still don’t get what is wrong with that fish, I mean it’s not FUGLY at all … in fact it look HOT from my screen… i swear i can SMELL it too! Thanks for the recipe by the way, it will be a nice Sunday dinner outdoor today…


    p.s: PLEEEASE post up s’more pictures of u and ur family in China, thanks

  28. Andy

    Jaden, welcome back! The fish looks amazing even if it is dead. I have been wanting to use banana leaves for a while now and this may be a great use for them.

  29. Darrell Huffman

    I made this dish on my big green egg tonight, stuffed a red snapper full of herbs, and grilled a hen of the woods mushroom along with it…fantastic!!!, needed several sheets of leaves, but at 2 bucks an lb, very cheap… The fish absorbed wonderful smokey, herby and ginger flavors ( from minced ginger rub in cavity )…the burning banana leaves left me sniffing for my hippie days, one of the best pieces of pices I have ever cooked, or had…thanks Jaden for sharing the idea, you rock!, and I wonder why you aren’t on the food network…but that might spoil a good thing….!!!

  30. eliza

    grilled, steam, fried, baked fish, i love them all.
    what funny pictures you had from your vacation! you should be crowned lady of many interesting expressions! πŸ˜€

  31. Kitt

    Aw, threemilechild, just when I had my hopes up!

    Welcome home, Jaden. What food from home did you miss most? What did you like best there?

    Great pics, of fish and China. More please!

  32. SteamyKitchen

    Darrell – Great! I’m happy that you enjoyed sniffing burnt banana leaves!

    Kitt- I missed STEAK. So we’ve had steak the past 3 nights. Oh and pizza too! I loved my hairy crab dinner – a delicacy – each small crab was like $15. It’s hairy crab season! I don’t know if you saw Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations in China, but he featured hairy crab. Strange name for the little bug but worth every single bite.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *