Riesling is tragically misunderstood. Drinkers often avoid ordering it, assuming it is always sweet, though there are many delicious, dry Rieslings on the market. The impenetrability of the German-language terminology also doesn’t help (terms like Prädikatswein and Kabinett are far less understood than Brut, say, or Grand Cru).
It’s a shame because Riesling is a special grape indeed. When grown in cool climates and picked ripe, its bright acidity is steely as a blade but lively as electricity; it tends to taste of lime and flint and green apple. When grown in warmer climates or picked overripe, it takes on notes of tropical fruit and peak-summer peaches. (Sweeter Rieslings, especially those made with noble rot, can also be exceptionally delicious, though that’s a conversation for another time.)
Riesling’s vivid acidity and bountiful fruit character make it a natural when paired with South-East Asian fare and other potent, spice-driven dishes. That’s the direction I decided to go in when seeking a match for Weingut Brand’s Riesling vom Berg, which is produced in southwestern Germany’s Pfalz region. As its label suggests, the wine tastes like green and growing things, with an edge of musky melon and resplendent lime and pepper.
And so I found my way to this recipe. Though it’s common in Thai cuisine to steam entire barramundi fish, I simplified the technique by using fillets of cod instead (though you could use sea bass, monkfish – whatever catches your fancy, really). Instead of steaming the fish in a banana leaf, I also went with the French en papillote approach, in which the fillet is sealed with an array of aromatics (in this case, lime slices and lime leaves, plus shallots, ginger, and lemongrass) and cooked in a parcel of parchment paper. After steaming in the oven, it’s topped with a sweet, funky, and lightly spicy sauce, and served alongside sticky rice.
Together, the two are an equally bright paean to summer: vivid with citrus, light and refreshing, both in perfect harmony.
Thai-Style Steamed Cod
For the fish:
8-10 makrut lime leaves
2 limes, thinly sliced
2 lemongrass stalks (outer layers only)
2 échalion (banana) shallots, peeled and cut into rounds
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and cut into rounds
2 large cod fillets
Flaky sea salt
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 échalion (banana) shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 lemongrass stalks (tender cores only, minced)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, minced
1 bird’s eye chilli, minced
Small handful coriander stems, minced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
60ml freshly squeezed lime juice
Extra lime slices
Fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 200° Celsius (395° Fahrenheit). First, prepare the cod parcels. For each fish fillet, you’ll need one large sheet of baking/parchment paper, at least four or five times the size of the fillet. Place the sheet in front of you with the shortest edge facing you and fold the paper in half from the top. Unfold it so you have a crease running through the middle.
2. Just below the crease, arrange a bed of aromatics for the fillet to sit on, just larger than the fish itself. Arrange half of the lime slices and several lime leaves in a flat layer. Remove the tough outer layers of one piece of lemongrass and add to the limes (mince and reserve the tender inner core, which you’ll need later for the sauce). Add half of the shallot and ginger slices.
3. Season your fillet with a pinch of salt and white pepper on both sides, and place on top of the aromatics. Top with a few more lime leaves before sealing: fold over the top of the sheet and create a parcel by folding the outer layers over each other until tightly sealed. Repeat with the second fillet and remaining aromatics.
4. Place the parcels on a baking sheet and add to the oven. Bake for approximately 12–15 minutes, or until cooked through.
5. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Add the vegetable oil to a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the shallots, and cook for 2–3 minutes, or until softened. Add the reserved minced lemongrass as well as the garlic, ginger, chilli and coriander stems. Cook for 2–3 minutes more, or until softened and fragrant.
6. Add the fish sauce and palm sugar, and cook until the sugar is melted and incorporated. Pour in the lime juice and stir for a minute or two more until the sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside.
7. To serve, scatter a few lime slices across two plates. Remove the fish fillets from the parcels (being careful not to burn yourself when the steam is released) and transfer to the plates with a few shallot rounds; discard the remaining aromatics and parchment paper. Divide the sauce between the two fillets and garnish with the coriander leaves. Serve with sticky rice on the side to help sop up the sauce.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.