Nick Liu doesn't take himself too seriously. Perhaps that's why the former chef at Toronto's Niagara Street Café never thought twice about appropriating the quasi-derogatory expression gwailo for his new Toronto restaurant, slated to open in October. "It's an Asian term for white people meaning 'foreign devil.' But in this case, I'm the gwailo," he jokes, explaining that his food relies as much on French technique and Canadian ingredients as it does on pan-Asian influences.
Featured here, Liu's Sambal Trout, a local take on a Singaporean hawker specialty made with stingray, is a case in point. Sumptuously seasoned, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled, the fish picks up smokiness from the fire while it steams, along with a wallop of flavour from Liu's super-spicy homemade chili sauce.
Ready time: 25 minutes
Sambal chili sauce
1 pound red chilies, cored and lightly seeded (depending on desired heat)
10 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 5-inch piece young ginger, peeled and chopped
2 stalks lemongrass (white part only), sliced
¾ cup vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lime zest, chopped
Salt to taste
2 large pieces banana leaf, each double the size of the fish filet
2 fresh boneless, skinless trout filets (about 7 ounces each)
2 lime leaves, julienned
20 basil leaves
20 coriander leaves
²/³ cup coconut cream
2 lime wedges
2 red chilies, julienned
To make the sambal sauce, blend chilies, garlic, ginger and lemongrass in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle. Gradually blend in vinegar.
Place puréed mixture into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in sugar until dissolved. Add lime zest and salt. Remove from heat, cool and transfer to a large jar with a lid. (This recipe makes about 4 cups sauce. Extra sauce will keep refrigerated for months and can be served on noodles, chicken or almost any vegetable in need of a spicy, garlicky boost.)
To make the trout, place banana leaves on a flat work surface. Place a filet in the centre of each leaf. Smear 2 tablespoons sambal over each filet. Sprinkle each one with julienned lime leaf, 5 basil leaves, 5 coriander leaves and a quarter of the coconut cream. Fold up on all sides, securing in centre with a toothpick. Grill on high heat for 2 minutes, then flip and grill for 2 to 3 minutes longer.
Remove parcels from grill and place on a platter. Open up the banana leaves and garnish with remaining basil, coriander and coconut cream, plus lime and chili. Serve with mango salad or an Asian slaw.