Trouting about: East Timorese ikan pepes

Our ‘to do’ list for these two weeks looks like this:
1. Get everything organised for Wedding #1
2. Make a lot of headway on organising Wedding #2
3. Cook meals from four different countries so that we’re up to Australia when we’re actually in Australia

Good thing Miranda’s on holidays from work and can basically spend all day doing these things! How people with real jobs (i.e. non-teachers) get anything done is a mystery. And good thing we cooked an East Timorese dish on Wednesday, so now we’re down to just three countries. It would have been even easier if the following hadn’t happened at the fishmonger:

Miranda enters fishmonger looking for red snapper, finds it, but decides it’s too big to fit in the pots we have, so looks for a suitable alternative…
Fish man: Can I help you?
Miranda: I wanted red snapper, but this one is too big.
Fish man: What about this smaller one?
Miranda: No, it’s still too big, really. Do you have a similar fish?
Fish man: Um…. (looks around helplessly) We have this yellow tail snapper?
Miranda: Is that similar to red snapper then?
Fish man: Well, I don’t know, but it has the same name…

Fortunately Google came to the rescue and suggested that rainbow trout might be an appropriate substitute to use in our dish, ikan pepes, or fish in curry sauce. East Timor is such a new country it’s pretty light on ‘traditional’ dishes, but it seemed to come down to a choice of this one, or batar daan, which mostly consists of corn, mung beans and pumpkin and therefore didn’t appeal much to Ash. The other benefit of making ikan pepes is that it allowed us to use up some of the leftover banana leaves from our Malayasian dinner! Our recipe was inspired by International Cuisine, but we did tweak both the ingredients and the cooking method according to our ingredients and kitchen – details below.

Ikan Pepes

2 good-sized rainbow trout
2 banana leaves
1 lime sliced in half
1 tsp salt (although we didn’t measure it and just ground what seemed like a sensible amount)
Rice, to serve

For curry paste:
1 tbsp tamarind pulp, soaked for 5 minutes in 2 tbsp water
4 birds eye chillies (ish – adjust to your taste. This was comfortably hot without being too intense)
1 stem lemongrass (only the inner part of the bottom 10cm), thinly sliced
6 macadamia nuts (substituted for the 5 candlenuts in the traditional recipe)
1 small, ripe tomato
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp shrimp paste
1 tbsp brown sugar (substituted for palm sugar)
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves

1. Score the fish several times on both sides and rub the lime and salt into the surface. Marinate. (Time wasn’t specified but we only did this for about 10 minutes – don’t know whether this was right or wrong, but you might presumably run the risk of starting to ceviche the fish if it’s left on for too long?)
2. Combine the curry ingredients in a food processor until they are smooth (ish).
3. Place about 1/3 of the curry on the banana leaf.
4. Rub another 1/3 of the curry into the belly of the fish.
5. Spoon the rest of the curry over the fish and seal up the packet. (This is where we ran into trouble because the banana leaves split, so we wrapped the whole operation – including the banana leaves – up in foil.)
6. Now, the traditional method of cooking is to steam in a bamboo steamer for 20 minutes, then finish on the grill for 6 minutes. However, this all seemed like too much of a faff (especially because the fish wouldn’t have fit in our bamboo steamer…), so we just put them on a baking tray in a 180C oven for 20 minutes. It worked!
7. Serve with rice, garnished with some extra basil.

Scored rainbow trout
These fish don’t look all that happy, funnily enough.

Trout with sauce in banana leaf

Ikan pepes with rice

It wasn’t all that summery on Wednesday (although that probably depends on how you define summer – with a British definition it was probably exactly right, haha), which is a shame, because this was a lovely summery dish. It was still warm enough to eat it in a t-shirt, though, so that’s something. It was also brilliantly easy. The hardest part was trying to get a grip on the slimy fish! Originally we thought it would be a good recipe to have on standby for an easy mid-week meal, but then we realised that we very rarely have ingredients like fish, lemongrass, macadamia nuts and basil on standby… so it might just have to re-emerge when we actually plan it. We do have two leftover rainbow trout (I was so flummoxed by the fishmonger’s ineptitude I bought too much) so maybe it’ll make a repeat performance.

Stay tuned for Brunei!

2 thoughts on “Trouting about: East Timorese ikan pepes

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