This past weekend was a total tease! Saturday was fifty-seven and sunny, and after the last four months of freezing/snowy/sleeting/torture that we have endured, it was received with overwhelming enthusiasm and gusto. The dog park was packed to its gills with canines of every shape and size, runners eagerly jogged on the west side highway wearing short sleeves, and the Village’s sidewalk cafes were bursting with fashionistas preemptively showing off this season’s hottest sunglasses (note: the cat-eye shape is having a moment). It almost, almost felt like it was really Spring.
And then….the clouds rolled in. Since I had spent the better part of Saturday frolicking around the West side’s parks, having lunch and white wine with friends at Mary’s Fish Camp and cheerfully enjoying the general lack of subzero-ness, I had deliberately shoved all of my weekend chores off to be done during the latter half of the weekend. Alas, on Sunday, excited to whip open my shades to yet another seasonally temperate and sunny day, I awoke to that familiar sound of dripping water on my windowsill. Outside there was soaking, cold, consuming, unrelenting, sideways, rain.
It was coming down when I woke up, vigorously persevered throughout the afternoon, and continued into the wee dark hours of Monday morning. That run I had pushed off on Saturday never materialized, that trip to find a dress for our upcoming engagement party was replaced with watching old episodes of ‘The Wire’ on the couch, and all I could muster was a three block jaunt to Duane Reade for the essentials: toothpaste and toilet paper. In the spirit of perennial optimism – at least the precipitation was rain and not snow, and for fifty-percent of the weekend we were afforded a glimpse of what surely will be boundless amounts of glorious spring weather on the horizon.
To keep that fleeting Spring feeling alive, I made some baked fish: a thick and meaty piece of mild white Cod fish, baked atop a bed of tender young vegetables and flavored with garlic, lemon, white wine, and herbs. I roasted it in its own parchment paper purse until the fish was tender but firm and flakey and infused with the fresh flavors. The basil chive oil really makes it special – the fish is flavorful enough as it is, but the sharp lemony herb oil ties everything together and makes this dish sing.
This dish is so flavorful and tasty but also really, really healthy. I used only a minimal amount of oil (no butter) and instead relied on lemon, fresh herbs, sea salt and fresh black pepper to bring out the sweetness of the vegetables and tenderness of the Cod. It’s one of those clean dishes that you feel great after eating – totally sated and happy, but nowhere near uncomfortably full. It’s perfect for a quick and healthy weeknight dinner – the only time-consuming elements are prepping the veggies and layering the parchment parcels. It would be equally wonderful to serve to guests (with some sparkling white wine!), as you can assemble the individual packets before they arrive and have them cooked and on the table 15 minutes later. Cleanup is also a snap – the baking sheet does not get greasy or dirty and just needs a quick rinse. Serve each person their own parchment pouch right on their plate.
The combinations of fish, vegetables, and flavors you can use are endless, but I always incorporate some mixture of herbs and lemon, which I think augment most types of fish nicely. Count on one good size filet per person (the lighter and flakier the fish the more each person will need), and serve with a nice fresh green salad or another light side. I decided to serve mine with a Puree of Spring Peas & Mint….recipe to come soon!
Cod en Papillote with Spring Vegetables and Basil Chive Oil
Normally I would say that a pound of protein is too much for two people, since a ‘normal’ portion size is meant to be 4 – 6 oz. However fish is so much lighter than other meats (and Cod is an especially light fish) so given that I didn’t serve this with any hearty carby sides one hungry girl and one hungry boy finished off just over a pound easily.
The basil chive oil is so soo delicious and really makes the entire dish taste so fresh – make some extra (it will keep 4-5 days covered and refrigerated) and spoon it over grilled meats, roasted vegetables, and sides of rice or couscous.
2 Filets of Red Snapper (6-8 oz each), or another thick, white, mild fleshed fish
1 Cup Cherry or Grape Tomatoes (halved if they are large)
1/2 A White Onion (I used the sweet Vidalia variety)
Small handful skinny asparagus, about 10-12 stalks
1 Small bulb fennel
Small handful thyme (12-15 sprigs)
Juice & Zest of one lemon
One clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Dry White Wine
Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper
Basil Chive Oil
Handful of Fresh basil (about 3/4 Cup)
Small bundle Chives, cut in half
Juice and zest of half a lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400F. Place a baking sheet into the oven to heat so it will be hot when the fish packets are ready to be placed on top. Remove the fish from the refridgerator and salt and pepper both sides of the filets.
Take 2 24″ sections of parchment, fold in each half, and make a crease (so it’s like you have an open book). Keeping the ‘book’ open, brush the inside center of one side lightly with olive oil, and place to the side.
Prepare the vegatables. Trim the woody ends off the asparagus. Take the onion half and cut it very thinly into half moons. Trim the fronds and stalks off the fennel, remove the woody outer leaves from the bulb, and cut the fennel into thin slices, about 1/8″ thickness.
Prepare the dressing. In a small bowl whisk together the wine, garlic, lemon juice, and zest.
Prepare the packets. Start by layering the asparagus on the oiled inside of the parchment ‘book’ followed be the fennel and the onions. Drizzle the vegetables lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Top the onions with the filets of fish, and scatter the tomatoes around the stack. Lightly drizzle each filet with a bit of olive oil, and pour half of the dressing over each filet. Season the tops of the filets with salt and pepper, and top with a few sprigs of thyme and a few slices of lemon (I rough chopped the lemon I had zested and juiced).
Fold the un-oiled and uncovered side of the ‘book’ over on top of the fillings. Crimp and fold the edges as tightly as possible – you do not want any steam to escape while cooking. Once sealed, removed the heated baking sheet from the oven and gently place the parchment packets atop using a spatula.
Cook 15 minutes for thinner filets and 18 minutes for thicker, until fish is just firm and cooked through, and the vegetables are tender.
While the fish cooks, make the basil chive oil. Place the basil, chives, and lemon juice in a processor and pulse to combine. Add the oil slowly while pulsing, until you have a thin but still textured oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
When the fish is cooked through, pull the packets out of the oven, and place each on a serving plate. Be careful when opening the packets – the steam that is trapped in them will be hot and escape quickly. Drizzle a spoonful of the basil chive oil over the filets, and serve immediately.
Eat, smile, repeat.