"bali burgers".

Many years ago, well around 1996 or so, some very good friends had a dinner party. More of a cookout kind of thing involving a charcoal grill. The male component of these friends is a creative, brilliant man, my favorite nearly-unknown poet in the world. He has a love of complexity, and can get lost in its nooks and crannies for, well, let's say a lifetime. Add to this a certain dreamy scatterbrainedness (which I myself share), and what you end up with is a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen.

His meals tend to be improbably ambitious in scope and uniquely intriguing in concept, but their execution occurs in its own specialized segment of space and time, a hilariously disorganized and utterly chaotic lab staffed by dog run's worth of surrealist chefs.

But on the night in question, we were all blown away by something he made that he called Bali Burgers. Our boy has an ongoing fascination/love with Indonesian culture, see...and a deep relationship with the New York Times. So when the NYT published an Indonesian travelogue along with some recipes, he was all over it.

Like a lot of Asian food, Indonesian recipes can be very time-consuming if you're making everything from scratch. I have no idea how much prep time had been invested before we showed up, definitely hours, maybe days. And, to add to the degree of difficulty, he would be grilling fish, which requires an attentive eye. I don't precisely remember what went wrong during the grilling process...it was about 11pm by this point, but what I thought I remembered was that he took the fish fillets that had completely flaked apart and disintegrated on the grill, and formed balls/patties out of them. And served them with some sort of sambal thingie on top. And they were one of the best things I'd eaten up to that point in my life.


This meal was filed away under "vaguely recollectable good times" and had gradually become a bit legendary because the fish was truly superlative. So I recently set off on a grand quest for the NYT article. Which ended approximately 8 seconds later when Google Desktop found it in my email archives from 1998. Handy, that.

Having tracked down the source article, our situation becomes a bit more like an episode of CSI: Atlanta, but without Marg Hellenberger's Botoxed lips cracking wise...trying to piece together exactly what may have occurred at the grill station. There are several fish recipes in the article, and the Bali Burger recipe itself doesn't involve a grill. D'oh. It looks like what he actually made was lilit satay.


TSS' NYT "bali burgers" seafood marinade.

10 large red Thai chilies, seeded and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
15 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 4-inch piece fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped, or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 medium tomato, skinned and seeded
1 4-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
10 candlenuts
1 teaspoon dried shrimp paste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 stalks lemongrass, peeled and bruised
1 teaspoon palm sugar
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1. In a food processor, combine the chilies, garlic, shallots, turmeric, tomato, ginger, coriander, candlenuts and shrimp paste. Process until the ingredients are well ground but not pureed.

2. In a medium-size saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the chili mixture, lemongrass and palm sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Remove the lemongrass stalks and stir in the tamarind paste and salt. Use as a marinade for seafood and as a condiment. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Yield: 2 1/4 cups.


lilit satay.

1 10-ounce sea bass fillet or other firm-fleshed white fish, skin removed
12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3/4 cup desiccated, unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup sambal mentah (see recipe)
5 lime leaves, sliced very fine
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
5 small green-bird chilies, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
16 6-inch lengths lemongrass, or 16 bamboo skewers immersed in water for 30 minutes.

1. In a food processor, combine the fish and shrimp and process until finely minced. Transfer to a bowl, add the remaining ingredients, except the lemongrass, and mix well.

2. Prepare a charcoal grill or preheat a broiler. Mound a heaping tablespoon of the seafood mixture over one end of the lemongrass, forming a somewhat flattened cylinder. Or for the skewers, mound 1 tablespoon of the mixture around each one. Grill or broil, turning once, until the fish is lightly browned and just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.


sambal mentah.

15 shallots, peeled, halved and very finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, halved and very finely sliced
15 small green-bird chilies, seeded and finely chopped
5 lemon or lime leaves, very finely sliced
4 stalks lemongrass, very finely sliced
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.

Combine all the ingredients in a deep bowl and stir with a wooden spoon for 5 minutes. Use as a condiment and as an ingredient in seafood dishes. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

Yield: 2 1/4 cups.


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