Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies

stacked cookies

Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.

I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the U.S. where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican weddign cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. (*Note: a reader was adamant that biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies were not the same so I removed this reference. If you have an opinion please comment below!). And Deb was baking glazed lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”

When my sis and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement didn’t last long because we moved away.

Two years ago, when my son was a year and some, I decided I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition. These lemongrass and pandan cookies were the result of my experimentation (read my original post here).

To make them festive for the season, I sprinkled the cookies liberally with colored sugar. Stacked, wrapped in cellophane, and tied with a bow, they make a lovely edible gift. Or, invite your girlfriends over for a spot of afternoon tea to escape the hecticness of the season and a plate piled with cookies will be a welcome–and pretty to look at–treat on your table. 

Have fun baking cookies and Merry Christmas everyone!

~~~

Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies

Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com

cookeis in a row

Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with white whole wheat flour (that’s what I had but you can use all-purpose flour too) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to ½ cup more sugar. If you can’t find fresh lemongrass, try dried lemongrass bits available at some herb and spice shops or lemongrass paste available at some supermarkets.

Makes: about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Lemongrass Confetti (see below)
1 tablespoon Pandan Extract (see below), or 1/2 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)
Sugar sprinkles or other decorations

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.

Divide the dough into 2 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits and pandan juice to each bowl respectively. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.

Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for two minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.

Lemongrass Confetti

Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils. Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk so you’ll probably need 2 stalks for this recipe.

Pandan Extract

Pandan (also called pandanus or screwpine) leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)

Rinse 10 pandan leaves and snip off sharp tips and hard bases. Snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll have more than the required 1 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just save the extra for making other desserts or add some to a pot of tea.

~~~

Today’s post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck and we’re featuring festive and edible foods! For more Let’s Lunch posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below (please check back throughout the day for additions): 

Lisa’s Chocolate Almond Tree on Monday Morning Cooking Club
Anne Marie’s Ornament Sandwiches on Sandwich Surprise
Betty Ann’s Mini Bibingka on Asian in America
Lucy’s Peppermint Candy Tray at A Cook and Her Books
Tammy’s Chewy Gingerbread Cookies at Insatiable Munchies
Vivian’s Festive Gingerbread Cookies at Vivian Pei
Linda’s Merry Kale Trees at Free Range Cookies
Annabelle’s Pecan Caramels at Glass of Fancy
Linda’s Ottolenghi-Style Eggplant with Tahini and Pomegranate at Spicebox Travels
Nancie’s Bûche de Noël at NancieMcDermott

Lemongrass Tea-Poached Chicken

Lemongrass
What to do with those lemongrass tops?? (Photo credit:Wikipedia)

Several recipes I learned while writing The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook are still in my everyday cooking repertoire.  Mochiko Fried Chicken (pg. 187), Japanese-Style Hamburgers (pg. 153), Deep-Fried Tofu Simmered with Tomatoes (pg. 123), just to name a few.

And an all-time favorite–Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilies (pg. 179).

Seemingly simple at first, this is one recipe that takes practice to perfect. Over the years, I’ve managed to improve the final outcome bit by bit.

I confidently caramelized the sugar to the point where it turns a rich mahogany and hovers on the bittersweet, and doesn’t burn. I know that the quality of the chicken is very very important to this dish. The chicken has to be fresh and definitely not plumped up with water. The extra liquid released during cooking turns the chicken pieces into mush, far from the nicely bronzed outcome you want. Now, I can make this dish with my eyes closed (well, almost!) and it turns out delicious every time.

But I am always left with one conundrum: what to do with the lemongrass tops?  I’ve tossed the tops into a pot with tea. I’ve made lemongrass vinegar. And then it came to me–why not poach chicken? It would make an excellent addition to a mixed green salad, my Harvest Rice Salad, and for a summery chicken salad for your next picnic.

The chicken turned out soft and tender, and was imbued with a delightful lemony scent and flavor. The remaining stock was so fragrant I was almost tempted to stick my head over the pot and breathe in the aromatherapy “fumes!”  I decided to save it for another dish instead.

What do you do with your lemongrass tops?

~~~

Lemongrass Tea-Poached Chicken

poached chicken

I used boneless chicken thighs for this method (I wouldn’t even call it a recipe!) because that’s what I always eat but you can use breasts too if you prefer. You can put the tea leaves into a cheesecloth sachet but I find that the tea leaves can be easily scraped off. If you only have tea bags, use one tea bag and remove it once  the water comes to a boil, unless you want a stronger tea flavor. Try adding other complementary herbs to the mix like Thai basil, ginger, or green onions.

Time: 20 minutes

2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon good quality looseleaf black or green tea
Tops from 3 to 4 stalks of lemongrass
3 smallish boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3/4 pound)

Fill a heavy (2-quart) pot about halfway full with water, just enough to cover the chicken pieces. Add the salt, tea, and lemongrass tops, and bring to a boil. Add the chicken and bring it back to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and remove the pot from the stove (important if you have an electric stove). Let sit for about 15 minutes (thicker pieces may take longer) or until the chicken is no longer pink inside (cut into a piece to check). If it is, put the lid back on and wait another 5 to 10 minutes.

Let the chicken cool a little then put it in the fridge overnight to cool completely. Remove the chicken from the liquid and shred with two forks or cut into slices.

~~~

 

Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies: An Experiment in Asian-Inspired Baking

stacked cookies

Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.

I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the U.S. where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican wedding cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. (*Note: a reader insisted that biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies were not the same so I removed this. Do you have an opinion?). And Deb was baking glazed Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”

When my sis and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement doesn’t last long when one of us is married to a man in the military.

This year, I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition, as often happens when you have a child. Isaac isn’t old enough to help in the kitchen but I figured I could do with a little practice in anticipation of the time he’ll be ready a few years down the road.

The wheels in my brain started whirring and then it came to me: Asian-inspired sugar cookies!

You might take one look at my methods and decide, Wow, that’s a lot of work! It’s not that I intentionally want to make my already-complicated life even more difficult. Trust me, there is reason behind the madness.

red sprinkles

As I surveyed the ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator, I made a mental checklist of yay or nay items. I nixed the idea of curried sugar cookies; too straightforward. Coriander and cardamom were common Scandinavian flavor profiles too and weren’t uniquely Asian. Then I pulled out the pandan leaves and lemongrass in my freezer. Hmm …

As you can see, I was just using what I had on hand. Considering we are moving again soon, it’s in my best interest to cook down my cupboards. I also had some bergamot oil which I know isn’t Asian-inspired, but I love Earl Grey tea so I thought, why not?

I adapted this recipe for the sugar cookie base and set to work. I divided up the dough into four parts so that I would not be fully committed to any one flavor. (Quadruple any of the amounts below if you’d like to make just one flavor.) As luck would have it, all of them turned out yummy. And chopping up the lemongrass and the pandan leaves wasn’t so hard, really!

In the end, it’s not just about the cookies. Although eating them is always part of the fun.

It’s about moms (and dads!), kids, and siblings whiling away a wintry afternoon, sharing a laugh as they cream sugar and butter in turn, and sprinkle candies on cookies. It’s about the joy of seeing a friend smile as they accept your prettily-packaged box of cookies. And there’s nothing like the sweet smell of cookies baking in the oven to spread warmth and cheer, and remind us that Christmas is here.

Merry Christmas everyone!

~~~

Experimental Christmas Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com

cookeis in a row

Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat flour because that’s what I had) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to ½ cup more sugar.

Makes: about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons Lemongrass Confetti (see below)
1/2 tablespoon Pandan Juice (see below), or 1/4 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)
1/8 teaspoon bergamot or other flavoring oils
Sugar sprinkles or other decorations

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.

Divide the dough into 4 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits, pandan juice, and bergamot oil to each bowl respectively, leaving the fourth bowl plain. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.

Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for two minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.

Lemongrass Confetti

Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils. Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk.

Pandan Juice

Pandan leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)

Rinse 6 pandan leaves and snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 2 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll probably have more than the required 1/2 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just add the extra to a cup of tea.

~~~

A peace offering–Caramelized chicken with lemongrass and chilies

“Are you alright? Haven’t seen any new posts for a while…” This earnest email popped into my email inbox a couple of days ago. The guilt that had been gnawing at me since my last post came bubbling up to the surface.

I am so sorry I disappeared without even a squeak. But I have a very legitimate excuse, several actually, really! It’s been a whirlwind of events these last two months.

First, my sister was getting married. Not only was I lady of honor (who knew there were so many responsibilities associated with the title, not to mention official skirt fluffer on the day of the wedding), I also spent several days baking 150 wedding cupcakes in three different flavors: strawberry, pandan, and chocolate in addition to entertaining overseas relatives and friends, and other miscellaneous sister-of-the-bride duties.

Second, we upped and moved from Seattle, Washington to Pacific Grove, California on the Monterey Peninsula. We now live in a little pink cottage with a gorgeous view of the bay from our deck! It’s smaller than our last place but downsizing and purging are great for one’s sanity. I’ve been pottering around my new kitchen and cooking some of the fabulous recipes I’ve gathered for my cookbook. The light-filled space is nice and open, and I was so happy to go from electric to gas, and oh, the stove is actually on an island!

And third, my manuscript was due. But the good news is, I finally handed in my manuscript last week. Woohoo! But I shan’t get too relaxed as edits will soon come round.

Anyway, enough about me.

Here’s a delicious Vietnamese chicken recipe as a piece offering.

Caramelized Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilies (Ga Xao Sa Ot Cay)

IMG_1052 by you.

The subtle, citrusy scent of lemongrass, the bittersweet flavor of caramel, and the heat of red chilies marry very well with chicken in this popular Vietnamese dish. Every Viet cook has his or her own recipe–this version comes from Huong Thu Nguyen. In her words, “It takes a while to make good caramel sauce without burning it,” so keep practicing! You may be tempted to use chicken breast instead of thighs as well as remove the skin. Please don’t. Thigh meat is juicier and more succulent and the skin has tons of flavor, all of which add to this delightful dish.

Time: 45 minutes

Makes: 4 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

4 plump stalks lemongrass

1 pound boneless chicken thighs with skin, cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 4 to 5 thighs)
1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided (about 4 to 5 cloves)
1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into thin crescents along the grain

3 red Thai chilies, cut into rounds

2 teaspoons fish sauce, or to taste
Chopped cilantro leaves for garnish

Chopped green onions for garnish

Trim the lemongrass and bruise the stems with a meat pounder or a large knife to release their aroma and oils. Cut into thin ringlets and whirl in a food processor until ground to confetti-sized flakes. Repeat with the remaining stalks. You will get about 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons).

In a medium bowl, season the chicken with salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and toss together with 3 tablespoons of lemongrass flakes. Set aside.

In a large skillet (if possible, use a pan with a light interior such as stainless steel so you can monitor changes in color), heat the oil over medium-high heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the sugar and stir continuously. After 1 to 2 minutes, the sugar will start to clump together then melt into syrup. After another 2 to 3 minutes, the clear syrup will thicken into a gooey caramel-brown liquid suspended in the oil. You will also smell a pleasant burnt sugar aroma. Watch the caramel closely during this process as it can burn very quickly. If the caramel starts to turn black and smell acrid, pull the skillet off the stove for a few seconds before continuing.

IMG_1044

Don’t let the caramel sauce get any darker than this.

Stir in the remaining lemongrass, onions, and 1 tablespoon garlic, and cook and stir until the ingredients turn golden brown and fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the chicken and raise the heat to high. Toss the chicken in the caramel sauce for about 1 1/2 minutes. If there isn’t enough sauce to evenly coat the chicken, carefully add water, 1 tablespoon at a time. If the mixture starts to sputter aggressively, pull the skillet off the stove until it ceases. Throw in the chilies and keep stirring until the chicken is no longer pink, about 2 to 3 minutes.

When the chicken is just cooked through, add the fish sauce and remaining garlic. Stir with a couple more flourishes to mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with black pepper to taste and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves and green onions. Serve with freshly steamed rice.

Grandma says:

“Add the fish sauce in at the last minutes and it won’t stink up your kitchen or your clothes.”

 

 

 

 

 

Fish Tales or Ama Sua’s claypot steamed WHOLE fish with lemongrass

Displayed Image

Trout, brook
Credit: Knepp, Timothy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I know, I know, you don’t like your dinner staring back at you. But please heed my one impassioned request: don’t wimp out and get fish fillets.

Before you get yourself into a tizzy, hear me out.

There are so many reasons to forgo floppy fillets and reach for a whole fish with its head and tail fin intact–the number one reason being flavor. I truly believe that fish tastes so much better cooked on the bone (no bias here). The gelatin-rich backbone is an excellent heat conductor and the fatty skin seals the moisture in, producing sweet-tasting flesh with all the natural flavor of fish and a cushiony texture unsurpassed by any ol’ fillet. 

Whole fish makes for a beautiful and dramatic presentation the table. If you or your dinner companions are a little queasy, remove the eyes when cooked and stuff the sockets with a few sprigs of parsley.

By cooking the entire fish, you won’t be wasting an ounce of gorgeous flesh and you’ll be able to savor the cheeks, delicious morsels considered by many cultures the finest part of the fish. (Side note: In Singapore, we eat fish head curry and fish cheeks are all you get! Oh, and some people enjoy sucking on the eye balls too.)

And of course, cooking a whole fish is a breeze (just be sure to ask your fishmonger to scale, gut and clean the fish first!). Simple seasonings–salt, lemon juice, slivers of ginger, or olive oil–are all you need.

No bones about it 

OK, so we’ve discussed all the wonderful reasons fish should be cooked whole. You must be thinking, what about those darned spindly fish bones?

They’re really not that much of a nuisance, honest! All it takes is a short lesson in fish anatomy. Fish have a simple, two-dimensional bone structure and there are fish that lift off the bone more easily than others after cooking: black sea bass, striped bass, flounder, catfish, rockfish, red snapper, trout, etc. just to name a few.

When ready to eat, use a knife and fork, or even a spatula, to lift the fillet in sections from the flat bone structure–gently please. After the top side of the fish has been removed, do not flip the fish over! It’s said to be bad luck and if you were a fisherman or a sailor, your boat would capsize. Instead, lift the backbone (I’d leave the head and tail behind to pick at but that’s up to you) to reveal the bottom fillet.

There still might be shards left behind, mind you, so it behooves your tongue be diligent. If you do get a bone in the mouth, the easiest thing to do is remove it discreetly with your thumb and forefinger. (If anyone else would shed some light on fish etiquette, please enlighten us.)

What? Now, I have to buy the fish? 

Now you’re all geared up to cook fish en tout, but ack … cooking a whole fish means buying a whole fish! Never fear, whole fish is brimming with freshness indicators.

  • Fresh fish doesn’t smell fishy. It should smell subtly of the water it came from, whether river or sea.
  • The gills should be shiny, bright red, and odorless.
  • The eyes should be glossy with a clear sheen. After a couple of post-caught days, they cloud over.
  • Fresh fish should be firm, with flesh that springs back when touched. Any mushiness in the body of the fish is usually a sign of age or that it was bruised during netting or transportation.
  • Make sure skin is free of any dark blemishes. The tail should not be dried out, brittle or curled.

That’s the end of “Whole Fish 101” and we are now ready for Pranee’s dish. Simple to prepare and oh-so healthy, this dish was a favorite of Pranee’s grandmother, Ama Sua. True to her frugal nature, she would only use the discarded leaf ends of the lemongrass to line the claypot, saving the rest for other dishes.

DSC06015

Here’s my mum’s pretty claypot

You have to admit it’s a pretty innovative way to steam fish: the lemongrass lattice raises the fish from the bottom of the pot, preventing it from sticking as well as flavoring and scenting it.

Steamed fish with lemongrass in claypot (Pla Nueng Morh Din)

DSC05979

Pranee didn’t make cuts into the trout because it was pretty slender. But if you’d like to ensure your fish cooks evenly–i.e. that the thinner tail end doesn’t cook before the thicker middle–make two diagonal bone-deep slashes into the broadest part of the fish on each side, about two inches apart.

Any white fish with natural fat such as halibut and true cod would work well in this recipe. Claypots are relatively inexpensive and are available at most Asian grocery stores. You can also experiment with other steaming methods I’ve outlined here.

Tip: Allocate 3/4 to 1 pound of fish per person. If you’d like to steam two fish (I wouldn’t put more than this in the steamer at one time), just use the same amount of lemongrass.

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 servings

1 1-1/2 to 2 pound whole trout, head and tail intact, scaled, gutted and cleaned
4 stalks lemongrass
1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
1/2 cup water or more as needed

Optional: Lay fish flat on a cutting board. At thickest part of the body, make two diagonal bone-deep cuts perpendicular to backbone, about two inches apart. Turn fish over, and repeat.

Remove about 1-1/2 inches from the hard root end of the lemongrass and the leaf end leaving about 6 inches of the center. Smash lemongrass with a meat pounder or a large knife to release the essential oils.

Fold one stalk into half and rub it all over the fish, inside and out. Discard stalk. Sprinkle salt and rub into the fish, inside and out.

Tear each of the 3 remaining lemongrass stalks into 4 strips. Lay lemongrass in a grid pattern at the bottom of the claypot.

DSC05977 

Place fish on top. Tuck in the tail if it doesn’t fit.

DSC05983 

Add enough water to reach bottom layer of lemon grass without touching the fish.

DSC05982 

Cover with lid and bring water to a boil over medium heat.

Once steam appears from the hole in the lid, about 5 minutes, check water level and add more water if necessary. Steam for another 8 to 10 minutes, checking on the water level at least once. At the thickest part of the fish, lift the flesh with a fork and if it separates easily from the bone, it’s done.  

DSC05993

Serve in claypot or carefully remove the fish with two spatulas onto a plate. Spoon liquid from plate over fish before serving.