Stuffed Uhu (Parrotfish) with Lap Cheong

Season this mild tropical fish with aromatics and cured pork.

Uhu is the Hawaiian word for parrotfish, a colorful tropical fish with a prominent sharp beak (hence the name) that it uses to munch on algae-coated coral. Since they live around reefs, the species is a prime target for local spearfishers. 

Maui chef and cookbook author Sheldon Simeon’s friends often supply him with these fish knowing that he will make something ono (delicious) with it. Stuffed uhu—filled with a mixture of mayonnaise, sliced veggies, sausage, and aromatics—is his ultimate preparation. The fish’s flaky fillets are tender and sweet, which perfectly balances these rich and savory fillings. The dish is also extremely riffable: Use whatever produce is sitting in the fridge (mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, celery, and zucchini are all great choices), plus any fatty cured meat—Simeon likes lap cheong, a dried Chinese sausage, but also notes that Portuguese sausage or smoked meat are excellent, too. He then wraps the whole thing in ti or banana leaves and a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil which seals in the fish’s moisture as it cooks. Some locals like to cook this dish on the grill, which lends the fish a subtle smokiness, while others prefer to roast it in the oven. Simeon believes you can’t go wrong either way. 

This recipe is adapted from Cook Real Hawai’i by Sheldon Simeon.

Featured in “Talking Hawaiian Home Cooking with Sheldon Simeon.”

Stuffed Uhu with Lap Cheong
Chef Sheldon Simeon’s savory stuffed parrotfish in ti leves is a satisfying taste of Hawaii, whether cooked on the grill or roasted in the oven.
Yield: serves 6
Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. shoyu
  • 1 tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp. sambal oelek
  • 1 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 medium lemon, halved
  • Garlic salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Ti or banana leaves, for wrapping
  • One 3–4 lb. whole uhu* (parrotfish), scaled and gutted
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 oz. lap cheong (Chinese sausage), thinly sliced (⅔ cup)
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water to soften, stems discarded, caps coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium plum tomato, coarsely chopped (½ cup)
  • ¼ medium sweet or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Cilantro sprigs, for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat a grill to medium-high heat or an oven to 375°F.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, shoyu, oyster sauce, sambal, lemon zest, and the juice of half the lemon. Season to taste with garlic salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. On a clean work surface, place overlapping sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil that are large enough that you can fit the fish atop them with enough room to bring the sheets together in a tent above it. Line the foil with ti or banana leaves, then position the fish in the center. Using a paring knife, cut four or five long slits into the skin along each side of the fish, deep enough to reach the bone. Season the outside generously with garlic salt and pepper, then stuff the sliced garlic and ginger into the slits. Coat each side of the fish with about two tablespoons of the mayonnaise mixture. Decorate the top side with a few slices of sausage, then stir the remaining remaining sausage, the mushrooms, tomato, onion, and scallions into the remaining mayonnaise mixture; stuff this filling into the fish’s cavity. To enclose the fish, bring the leaves and the long sides of the foil together to form a triangular tent; fold twice to seal, then flatten and tightly tuck in the short sides.
  4. Grill the foil-wrapped fish over medium heat, turning once, until the juices are audibly bubbling and sizzling within the packet and the flesh yields and flakes easily when poked with a fork, about 40 minutes. (Alternatively, place the wrapped fish on a large baking sheet, transfer to the oven, and bake for 40–50 minutes.) Squeeze the remaining lemon half over the fish, garnish with cilantro, and serve hot.

*Parrotfish can be tough to find on the mainland. Look for it in Asian markets, or substitute any firm, flaky whole fish such as sea bass, snapper, tilapia, branzino, or trout.

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