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Leaf cookery is common throughout the world's tropical regions. In Central Africa, both whole fish and fish filets are cooked in leaf packets over grills or charcoal fires. Throughout the Congo River area, the Lingala word, Liboké (plural, Maboké) is often used to refer to this method of preparation; Ajomba (or Jomba) is the name nearer the Atlantic coast. Poisson en Paquet is French for Fish in Packet. Leaves of banana or marantaceae (or marantacee) plants give the food a certain flavor that will be missing if they are not used, however aluminum foil can be substituted. Outside the tropics, look for (frozen) banana leaves in International, Asian, and Latin American grocery stores. See also: Liboké de Viande. Chicken can also be cooked this way.
What you need
What you do
Note: the banana leaves should not be eaten.
In 1897, after traveling along the Atlantic coast region of Central Africa, Mary Kingsley wrote this about Central African cooking in Travels in West Africa (Everyman, J. M. Dent, London; Charles E. Tuttle, Vermont, 1993). You are most likely to encounter a "sea pie" in the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian. Sea pies have been described as, "A seaman's dish composed of fish or meat and vegetables in layers between crusts, the number of which determine whether it is a 'double-decker' or a 'three-decker.' "
The paragraph that precedes this one, and a description of odika or "odeaka cheese", can be found on the Beef in Wild Mango Kernel Sauce recipe page.
The natives use [Odeaka cheese] as a seasoning in their cookery, stuffing fish and plantains with it and so on, using it also in the preparation of a sort of sea-pie they make with meat and fish. To make this, a thing well worth doing, particularly with hippo or other coarse meat, reduce the wood fire to embers, and make plantain leaves into a sort of bag, or cup; small pieces of the meat should then be packed in layers with red pepper and odeaka in between. The tops of the leaves are then tied together with fine tie-tie, and the bundle, without any saucepan of any kind, stood on the glowing embers, the cook taking care there is no flame. The meat is done, and a superb gravy formed, before the containing plantain leaves are burnt through--plantain leaves will stand an amazing lot in the way of fire. This dish is really excellent even when made with boa constrictor, hippo, or crocodile. It makes the former most palatable; but of course it does not remove the musky taste from crocodile; nothing I know of will.
Joseph H. Reading's The Ogowe Band: A Narrative of African Travel (Reading & Company, Publishers, Philadelphia, 1019 Cherry Street, 1890) is a travel diary which describes a tour of the towns, trading posts, and Christian missions on the Atlantic coast of Africa. This excerpt describes banana-leaf cookery:
[at the Bolando mission on the Benita river]
A favorite dish in the Bolando household is what is called an Ajomba of fish. To prepare this dish the fish are cut into lengths of five or six inches and laid upon plantain leaves; these leaves are nearly two feet wide and are cut into two feet lengths and laid together in several thicknesses. After the fish has been laid upon this pile of leaves, salt and red peppers are added and also odika, pau, palm-oil or some other native sauce; the edges of the leaves are then gathered up and tied and the "bundle" put in the hot ashes, and the cinders raked up near it, but not near enough to burn it. Both fish and meat cooked in this way are excellent; the leaves do not impart any unpleasant taste, and as every particle of steam is kept in the bundle the flavor is retained and the toughest meat becomes tender.
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