Snapper in banana leaves

Snapper in banana leaves

Pinaputok na isda

7000 Islands
Jana Liebenstein

In a round-up entitled ‘26 Top Filipino Iconic Dishes’ published in 2012 in the newspaper The Philippines Star, prolific food writer Claude Tayag shared his thoughts. Among them, at number 24, was pinaputok na isda. This is a dinner-party centrepiece. It is also dramatic — the parcel ‘pops’ when it is ready. Abundant tilapia is used in the Philippines, but local snapper has been substituted in this recipe. Ask your fishmonger to clean it for you.


Quantity Ingredient
1.4kg whole snapper, cleaned and scaled
4 banana leaves, (optional)
8cm piece ginger, peeled and half thinly sliced, half finely grated
6 garlic cloves, half smashed, half crushed
125g cherry tomatoes, 4 halved, remaining tomatoes quartered
6 spring onions 2 cut into 4 cm lengths on the diagonal, 4 thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 long green chilli, seeded and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 small handful coriander sprigs
steamed rice, to serve

Dipping sauce

Quantity Ingredient
60ml kalamansi or lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 long green chilli, seeded and thinly sliced on the diagonal


  1. Rinse the fish inside and out with cold water, then pat dry with paper towel. Make three shallow cuts, each about 1 cm deep, into the thickest part of each side of the fish.
  2. Prepare the banana leaves if using. Heat softens banana leaves, making them more pliable and easier to work with. For a gas stovetop, wave both sides of the banana leaves over a medium–high flame until just wilted. Wipe with a paper towel. Alternatively, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Using tongs, dip each leaf into boiling water to soften, then refresh under cold running water. Wipe with a paper towel. Set aside until needed.
  3. Preheat a barbecue to high. Place two banana leaves lengthwise, slightly overlapping, on a work surface, then place the fish in the centre. Alternatively, arrange the fish on a sheet of foil.
  4. Combine the finely grated ginger and crushed garlic in a bowl to form a paste, then rub into the cuts of the fish. Season both sides with salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper.
  5. Place the remaining sliced ginger and smashed garlic in the cavity, then scatter the halved tomatoes and spring onion lengths around the fish.
  6. Place another banana leaf on top of the fish and use kitchen string to make a parcel and enclose the fish; or use another sheet of foil. Make sure there are no holes; you want an airtight parcel for optimum steaming. Reserve the remaining banana leaf to serve.
  7. Cook the fish for 20 minutes, or until the parcel inflates and makes a popping sound — the fish should be just cooked through. (To check, open the parcel and use a small knife to separate the flesh near where it has been scored. If it’s white right to the bone, it’s ready. Otherwise, cook a few minutes longer.)
  8. Meanwhile, to make the dipping sauce, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.
  9. Place the fish on a platter lined with the remaining banana leaf, if using. Scatter over the chilli, coriander and remaining quartered tomatoes and thinly sliced spring onion. Serve with the dipping sauce and steamed rice.

What is it?

  • Similar to French en papillote (cooking in baking paper), pinaputok na isda, chargrills, bakes or deep-fries fish in a parcel to preserve its moistness, juices and flavour. Native banana leaves are used to wrap and also impart a subtle aroma. Derived from the verb putok, its name literally means ‘popped’ or ‘exploded fish’.
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