Monday, March 3, 2008

Like Eatin' Fish in a Bag

Enough. I spent the weekend re-reading my posts and I realized I've been too easy on you. Cutesy stories and moronically simple recipes. In short, I've been treating you like you had to use "the short bus" to get to school.

Enough is enough. The recipes you have are very good, spectacular even. I'll take any and all questions you have about them, the only stupid question is the one not asked. That said, time to get a little more aggressive.

Crabby Tip of the Day: Learn to be a thief.

Whenever I go to restaurants or to the supermarket or watch a cooking show I'm looking to steal something that will make me a better cook. I'm not talking about stealing something physical, I'm talking about stealing ideas, tips and techniques.

If I'm at the grocery store and I see something I don't recognize, I'll ask the staff what it is and how to cook it. I can't tell you how many times I've been in restaurants and sweet talked the wait staff into getting me the basics of a recipe that I really enjoyed. If I see a technique on a cooking show, I'll find a rerun and Tivo it.

Teach yourself, don't wait for me to do it.

With will comes skill. Will yourself to do it.

Today's recipe is based on a technique I stole while watching my fishmonger prepare a dinner. Monahan's Seafood Market (734.662.5118) is an Ann Arbor business located in the Kerrytown area of the city. Monahan's is the type of small business I like to support. The staff is knowledgeable and responsive to my questions and complaints. My only persistent complaint is that his prices tend to run $1-$2 per pound more than can be found at other local supermarkets.

One of the products Monahan's provides is a cook-at-home fish in parchment preparation. For $10 - $15 dollars (depending on the fish) you get a single serving of fish on a bed of either rice or spinach, topped with either a compound sun-dried tomato butter or a lemon caper sauce. The entire thing is wrapped in parchment; 14 minutes in a 375 deg oven and you're done.

Three nights in a row I bought this dinner just so I could watch the technique. After the third night I knew I could do it myself. Fish en papillote is a time honored tradition, there is nothing difficult about it.

Here is my base recipe, this recipe allows for nearly unlimited creativity ("veering"); the amounts are for a single serving dinner. When serving more people make individual pouches and serve in the bag on a plate. The crowd will go wild.

N.B. The photos included do not use a compound butter, but use pieces of butter topped with a strawberry balsamic glaze. (That came out pretty well).

Fish in a Bag

1 Sheet Parchment paper approx 30" long (NOT waxed paper)
5 oz Fresh Baby Spinach Leaves
2 c. chopped assorted vegetables from your supermarket salad bar
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp White Wine
1 tsp Olive Oil
1 serving (approx 1/3 pound) fish fillet (good candidates: salmon, sole, tilapia, mahi mahi)
1 Tbsp compound butter (recipe to follow - needs to be made in advance)
1 Stapler (hold your seahorses, you'll see in a minute)

Preheat your oven to 375 degs. In a saute pan melt the regular butter over high heat. When the butter stops foaming add the salad bar vegetables (This is a great cheat. Why buy and chop up all those individual vegetables yourself when they're just sitting at the salad bar waiting to be taken? You may have to cut some of the larger veg into smaller pieces but it's still faster and easier than doing all that work yourself). Toss occasionally, sauteing until slightly browned (approx. 3- 5 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Lay out the parchment paper on a flat surface. Drizzle the wine on one half of the parchment paper. Place the spinach leaves on top of the wine. Place the sauteed vegetables atop the spinach and then the drained tomatoes. Drizzle the vegetable pile with the teaspoon of olive oil. Place the fish fillet on top of the pile of vegetables. Divide and distribute the tablespoon of compound butter atop the fish.

Now the semi-hard part. Fold the other half of the parchment paper over the half holding the fish. At this point the fish should be covered, but the pouch open on three sides. Now starting on one side, take both pieces of paper and fold a 1/2" edge down the length of the side of paper. Take that fold and fold it in half and quickly staple the edge closed, (you will need probably 4 or 5 staples to cover the side). Repeat this process across the top of the package and then down the opposite side. When complete you'll have a sealed pouch that will nicely steam your fish veggie dinner.

Put the package on a cookie sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes (this assumes a fillet approximately 1" thick, for larger pieces of fish add 7 minutes of cooking time for each additional inch of thickness). Larger pieces will also need more compound butter.

Compound Butter

1 Stick of Butter (4 oz.) softened to room temperature
1 Tbsp Honey
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 tsp. Dried or Fresh Thyme
1 Tbsp Hot Sauce (My personal favorite is Maggi Taste of Asia Sweet Chili Sauce - not too spicy with just a little kick. If using Sweet Chili Sauce you will want to eliminate the honey from the recipe)

Place the softened butter into a bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mash together, ultimately forming a well mixed paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. After two hours the butter will return to a firm consistency. I have no idea how long this butter will keep as I use it on seemingly everything.

That's it. Serve with a chilled Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc (try one from New Zealand if you can find it).

Prep Time: 10 minutes for the compound butter assuming you left the butter out overnight to soften
Prep Time: 15 minutes to prep the fish bag.
Active Cooking time: 7 minutes to saute the vegetables
Passive Cooking Time : 15-20 minutes.
Clean-Up: 1 Saute Pan and the Dinner Plate. If you're careful the cookie sheet will be clean because all the liquid will be trapped inside the bag until you open it on the plate.

Other ideas. Use freshwater whitefish or walleye. Add some drained canned diced tomatoes to the vegetable medley. Use Worcestershire and honey in the compound butter (especially useful for steakier fish like tuna, and can also be used on a grilled steak).

Alright crablings, this recipe is a little bit harder but not because of the cooking. No, it's the hand-eye coordination you need to seal the package. Believe me, it's easy and the result is probably the moistest piece of fish you've ever had. Give it a try.

Just remember, you can do it. You can cook.


SusieQ said...

Thanks, Crabby!!! Seashell Sal has raved about your "fish in a bag" forever... You've definitely given me food for thought (groan)!

Jeannebean said...

I had the good fortune to watch you prepare this dish -- then to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It is indeed a spectacular dish & fun to do. [altho I haven't done it yet]
Thanks, crabby.