Lotus is an olfactory orgasm; a deep whiff can lead to momentary swooning. The magic of cooking in lotus is that its intoxicating fragrance infuses anything it touches. Lotus leaves come dried and are available in Asian groceries. They are huge, spanning 2 feet or more. All you have to do is soak them in a sink (or large bowl) filled with warm water until they become pliable, about 10 minutes. The fish in this recipe is left whole, but its main skeletal bones are removed, making it easy to serve.
Prep: 40 minutes (plus 5 minutes for Szechwan salt)
Grill: About 20 minutes.
BBQ TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
– Grill screen
– Long-handled spatula
REMOVING THE BONES FROM A WHOLE FISH
You will need:
– Clean cutting board
– Sharp, narrow-bladed knife (boning knife)
– Heavy-duty scissors
1. Lay the fish on its side on the cutting board, with its back facing the hand holding the knife. Make a slit through the skin just above and running along the central back ridge of the fish (see photo 2).
2. Using short strokes, work your knife along the bones supporting the dorsal fin (see the illustration), lifting the flesh from the bone down the length of the backbone, all the way from the head to the tail. As you are cutting, you should feel bone against one side of the knife at all times. This will ensure that you aren’t leaving edible flesh on the carcass.
3. Continue cutting until the entire backbone is exposed and you have cut over the ribs where the ribs end in the belly. One side of the rib cage should now be separate from the flesh of the fish (see photo 3).
4. To separate the flesh from the tail end of the fish, lay the flat side of the knife against the backbone, with the blade facing the tail. Hold the head end of the fish steady and cut back toward the tail, cutting through the skin connecting to the anal fin (see the illustration), but stopping before you get all the way to the tail. One side of the fish will now be separate from the skeleton but will still be attached at the head and tail.
5. Turn the fish over and fillet the other side in the same way.
6. Using scissors, cut the backbone where it connects to the head and again where it connects to the tail. Remove the skeleton. Use the tip of your knife to remove any small bones still remaining along the belly.
Gas: Indirect heat, medium-high (350° to 375°F)
3- or 4-burner grill-middle burner(s) off
2-burner grill – 1 side off
Clean, oiled grate
Charcoal: Indirect heat, medium ash
Split charcoal bed (about 2 dozen coals per side)
Clean, oiled grate on medium to low setting
Wood: Indirect heat, medium ash 12-by-12-inch bed, 3 inches deep Clean, oiled grate set 4 inches above the fire.
INGREDIENTS (MAKES 6 SERVINGS)
For the stuffing:
2 cups brewed jasmine tea made from 2 teabags or 2 tablespoons loose tea
1½ cups sushi rice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
1 large dried fig, chopped
2 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut
½ teaspoon Sesame Szechwan Salt
2 scallions, roots and wilted leaves trimmed, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sliced or slivered almonds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
For the fish:
2 whole red snappers or sea bass, about 2 pounds each, scales, gills, and fins removed
4 dried lotus leaves
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Oil for coating grill grate and grill screen.
1. To make the stuffing, combine the brewed tea, rice, and soy sauce in a large saucepan; cover and heat to boiling over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
2. Add the crystallized ginger, fig, coconut, Szechwan salt, scallions, almonds, and cilantro to the pan (do not mix); cover and set aside for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, mixing the ingredients evenly into the rice.
3. While the rice is cooking, remove the central skeleton from the fish. Submerge the lotus leaves in a large bowl of hot water. Soak until pliable, about 10 minutes.
4. Heat the grill as described.
5. Brush the fish inside and out with the soy sauce, lemon juice, and sesame oil. Place 2 lotus leaves on top of one another (dark-side down), and spread them out flat. Place a fish at one edge, and fill with half the stuffing. Fold the edges of the leaves over the ends of the fish and roll the fish up in the leaves until the package is completely encased; secure the loose end with a wooden toothpick. Repeat with the other fish and the remaining lotus leaves and stuffing. Oil the grill screen and put the lotus-wrapped fish on the screen, toothpick-side down.
6. Brush and oil the grill grate. Put the grill screen on the grill, positioning the fish away from the fire. Cover the grill and cook for 8 to 10 minutes per side; let rest for 5 minutes.
7. Slit open the lotus wrappers and serve.
1. Soaking lotus in sink
2. Beginning boning fish
3. Finishing boning fish
4. Wrapping stuffed fish
5. Fish on grill
6. Unwrapped and cut fish