There is nothing easier than grilling an incredibly fresh talakitok (trevally or jack) on a charcoal fire and serving it with vinegar, soy sauce, bagoong or other dipping sauce. So I figured I would tinker and try some different variations and attempt to do it en papillote (baked in paper) on the grill. I should have known that paper and a super hot charcoal fire were not a particularly brilliant idea but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? The fish I bought at a Batangas market were perfect, about 4 pieces to a kilo or roughly 250 grams each, they were still alive when purchased, with gills still desperately gasping for airâ€¦or is it water? Why canâ€™t they live in the air if in the water they use their gills to get air from the water? Anyway, they couldnâ€™t get any fresher than that at a local market.
I got caught up in the flavor variations so I put one fish into a large sheet of baking paper (NOT wax paper whose coating melts and makes your food taste waxy) and added soy sauce, dayap juice, pepper and coriander. Wrapped up with edges folded, this is cooking en papillote or in paper… In another packet I put olive oil, lemon, red pepper flakes or long thai red peppers and flat leaf parsely. And in a third variation I tried soy sauce, sesame oil and limes with thai chilli peppers. Wrapped into nice tight pockets, the concept was to steam the fish in their own juices and they would emerge from their wrappers like humans emerge from a steam bathâ€¦ The fish were supposed to be brilliant looking, steamed to perfection, soft and flavorfulâ€¦
Not quite. The paper nearest the flame got singed but never burst into flames. So most of it turned jet black (why is the saying jet black and charcoal grey???) and looked dangerously carcinogenic. Unwrapping the packages revealed the not-so-disaster like fish within. The side facing the fire were a bit brutal looking but otherwise the taste was very, very good. The fish were tender and the juices extremely tasty. I just couldnâ€™t serve the fish in the paper, which is normally the case when baked in an oven, because it looked scary. I also decided to grill a few fish directly on the fire, just seasoned with salt, olive oil and some lemon juice. In the first photo above, the fish en papillote is at left and plain grilled fish is on the right.
What to serve with the fish to jazz it up? Some incredibly tart green mangoes that I found in the same market and a sweetish bagoong that came off as almost a bagoong jam. Our guests loved the bagoong and mango combination and it went really well with the grilled fish. I also tried some of the fish with the habanero sauce I made a week before and it was incredibly good as well. The sweetness and firmness of the fish paired well with the slow burn of the habanero sauce. Which was better â€“ plain grilled or en papillote? I have to admit I liked the plain grilled betterâ€¦