Ikan Pepesan (Indonesian steamed cod in banana leaf) Recipe

Ikan Pepesan is an Indonesian fish dish using banana leaves to steam the fish. Unlike Indonesian meat dishes which are usually slow cooked for several hours, Indonesian fish dishes take less time to cook. Ikan Pepesan can be ready within 45 minutes and if you make large quantities of the spice paste (bumbu) and freeze it, the dish can be ready within 30 minutes. We just started using this dish in our traditional Indonesian essential cooking workshops and because of its exotic look and refined taste our guests loved it right away!

Ikan Pepesan: Indonesian cod steamed in banana leaf with herbs and spices

Ikan Pepesan cooking method

Pepes is an Indonesian cooking method using banana leaf as food wrapping. After adding various ingredients and fish to the banana leaf, it is then folded and secured with small nails (from the central rib of a coconut leaf) or little skewers. The package is then steamed or grilled on charcoal. We boil the fish package for our Ikan Pepesan. This cooking technique allows the rich spice mixture to be compressed against the main ingredients inside the individual banana leaf package while being cooked, and also adds a distinct aroma of cooked banana leaf. Although being cooked simultaneously with food, the banana leaf is a non-edible material and is discarded after cooking. This particular cooking technique using banana leaf as food wrapper is widely distributed throughout Indonesia but originated from Sundanese cuisine.


Ikan Pepesan variaties

Pepes can be made with fish but also with other types of foods. The spice paste (bumbu) can contain a mix of chilli, garlic, shallot, turmeric (kunyit), ginger (djahé), candlenut (kemiri), tamarind, tomato and lemon basil, all wrapped together with the fish in banana leaf. Sundanese cuisine recognizes two types of pepes: the regular or 'plain' variety and yellow pepes, which is cooked with turmeric. Indonesians use various local fish for their pepes but we can't buy those fishes here in the Netherlands so we use cod. You can find good quality cod at Vishandel Tel at Nieuwmarkt area in Amsterdam. Banana leaves can be bought at various Asian supermarkets at Nieuwmarkt area too. Look for them at the frozen section and immediately freeze them once home.


Ikan Pepesan: Indonesian cod steamed in banana leaf ingredients

How to make Ikan Pepesan

Most Indonesian protein dishes start with making a spice paste (bumbu) and Ikan Pepesan is no exception to this. This spice paste is a lot thicker than other ones because it includes candlenuts (kemiri), a natural thickener used a lot in Indonesian cuisine. Find out more about them in one of my blogs.


Roasting candlenuts (kemiri) for Ikan Pepesan bumbu spice paste

Candlenuts (kemiri) are toxic when eating raw so first fry them over medium heat in a dry pan until both sides are brownish. Crush with a knife. Roughly chop shallot, garlic and red chillies. Remove ends of lemongrass stalk, remove outer layers and chop the tender inner white part roughly. Remove the vein of the kaffir lime leaves. Add candlenuts, shallot (bawang merah), garlic (bawang putih), red chillies (lombok merah), lemongrass (sereh), kaffir lime leaves (daun djeruk perut), fermented shrimp paste (trassi), ground turmeric (kunyit), coriander (ketumbar), galangal (laos), ginger (djahé) and oil to a food processor and pulse until a smooth paste (bumbu) forms.


Ikan Pepesan: Indonesian cod steamed in banana leaf bumbu spice paste

Heat oil in a wok or pan over medium heat and fry the spice paste for 10 minutes while stirring now and then.


Frying Ikan Pepesan bumbu spice paste

Once the spice paste (bumbu) for Ikan Pepesan is fried it is time for some banana leaves! First, clean the banana leaves with damp kitchen paper. Spread some of the spice paste in the middle of the banana leaves and place the cod steaks on top of it. Spread some more spice paste on top of the cod steaks and top of with a salam leaf (daun salam) and two kaffir lime leaves (daun djeruk perut).


Cod, bumbu spice paste, salam leaf, kaffir lime leaf in banana leaf for Ikan Pepesan

Fold the banana leaves over the fish lenghtwise, fold the sides like gift wrapping and secure them with skewers so the banana leaf cod package is closed.


Ikan Pepesan banana cod spice paste package in steam colander

Boil water over medium heat in a large pan and put a steam colander inside. Steam the banana leaf cod packages over medium heat in the steam colander for 20 minutes.


If you don't want to do more effort, serve with steamed white rice (Nasi Putih) and pickled cucumber (Acar Ketimun). Or you could serve with other seefood dishes such as spicy chilli shrimp with peteh beans (Sambal Goreng Udang Peteh), squid coconut curry (Kare Cumi), steamed bok choy and white rice.


Steamed cod in banana leaf (Ikan Pepesan), spicy chilli shrimp with peteh beans (Sambal Goreng Udang Peteh), squid coconut curry (Kare Cumi), steamed bok choy and white rice


Ingredients for 4 people

For the spice paste (bumbu):

  • 10 candle nuts (kemiri), can be substituted with macadamia nuts

  • 1 large shallot

  • 1 lemongrass stalk (outer layers removed, tender inner white part only)

  • 3 garlic cloves

  • 3 long red (Spanish) chillies

  • 4 kaffir lime leaves (daun djeruk perut)

  • 1 teaspoon fermented shrimp paste (trassi)

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric (kunyit)

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander (ketumbar)

  • 1 teaspoon ground galangal (laos)

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (djahé)

  • 50ml vegetable oil (coconut, peanut, rice)

For the cod:

  • 4 cod steaks of 125gr per piece

  • 4 banana leaves of 30 x 30 cm

  • 4 salam leaves (daun salam)

  • 8 kaffir lime leaves (daun djeruk perut)

  • Little skewers to secure the banana leaf cod packages

Instructions

  • First, make the spice paste (bumbu). Fry the candle nuts (kemiri) over medium heat in a dry pan until both sides are brownish. Crush them with a knife.

  • Roughly chop the shallot, garlic and red chillies.

  • Remove ends of lemongrass stalk, remove outer layers and chop the tender inner white part roughly.

  • Remove the vein of the kaffir lime leaves (daun djeruk perut).

  • Add candle nuts, shallot, garlic, red chillies, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fermented shrimp paste (trassi), ground turmeric, coriander, galangal, ginger and oil to a food processor and pulse until a smooth paste (bumbu) forms.

  • Heat oil in a wok or pan over medium heat and fry the spice paste for 10 minutes while stirring now and then.

  • Clean the banana leaves with kitchen paper. Spread some of the spice paste in the middle of the banana leaves and place the cod steaks on top of it. Spread some more spice paste on top of the cod steaks and top of with a salam leaf (daun salam) and two kaffir lime leaves (daun djeruk perut).

  • Fold the banana leaves over the fish lenghtwise, fold the sides like gift wrapping and secure them with skewers so the banana leaf cod package is closed.

  • Boil water over medium heat in a large pan and put a steam colander inside. Steam the banana leaf cod packages over medium heat in the steam colander for 20 minutes.

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