Wrap your fish in a perfect little natural packet. It may seem an intimidating prospect to accomplish, but the process is fairly simple—just cut and fold. Cooking with a banana leaf truly adds a tropical vibe, and as a bonus will keep your fish warm for a little while.

The leaf not only acts as an attractive wrapping, but also lends a tea-like flavor to the fish. Tip: When you are creating the ties from the ribs, they will dry out if you cut them too early in the process, so do it when you are ready to cook. If they do dry out, spray with water to make them pliable again.

The mildly hot Aji Criollo sauce, made with mostly jalapeño peppers and cilantro, keeps the fish moist, and injects a zippy herb flavor. Add the sauce to fish before baking, then set out extra on the table in case guests want to add a little more.

If you are looking to throw a kickin’ Latin party, see my party plan A Latin Fiesta for more recipes and ideas.

MAKES 8 PACKETS

PREPARE BANANA LEAVES…PREHEAT OVEN 425ºF

1 or 2 banana leaves, defrosted

Unfold banana leaves. With a kitchen scissor, cut out the rib along the edge (to tie each packet), put aside. Carefully cut leaves into eight 12-inch squares.

MAKE THE AJI CRIOLLO SAUCE

3 jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 bunch of cilantro, both stems and leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup of water
3 cloves garlic, squeezed in a garlic press
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
1 scallion, cut into thin rings

Combine in a blender, except scallions. Move to bowl, stir in scallions. Makes about 8 oz.

MAKE THE FISH PACKETS

1 1/4 LB cod fillet, cut into 8 pieces
aji criollo sauce

Take each banana leaf square by the corner and sweep back and forth over a burner, about 5 times each side. Place fish in center of leaf, top with a big spoonful of the aji criollo sauce. Fold top and bottom of banana leaf over fish, then fold in left and right sides to enclose the fish and form a packet. Tie packet, trim ends. Place onto baking sheet.

BAKE THE FISH

Place on oven’s middle shelf, bake for 20 min. To serve, keep fish inside packets to keep warm, and allow guests to unwrap and eat. It’s a bit messy with sauce oozing out, so nice to present in small bowls.

Each banana leaf measures about 3 to 4 feet, so could be used decoratively as a runner along the length of the table.

See more recipes for a hot and steamy Latin dance party in 07 A Latin Fiesta