I’ve really neglected this blog for some time, having been seduced by the ease and speed of Twitter, but sometimes 140 characters are more inadequate than usual for describing a really good meal (or almost anything else for that matter).
On Friday I came back from the Union Square Greenmarket with what the Pura Vida stand described as Redfish fillets. They had stood out from the rest of the huge iced selection because they were not something I had cooked recently (actually, I’d not cooked them ever), because they looked beautiful, and because the price was more than reasonable (I paid a little over $10 for two filets of about 6 ounces each). Not familiar with the name (and fish names are notoriously imprecise), I asked what Redfish might be compared to. I was told Red Snapper would be a fair equivalent, and that they were a mild-tasting fish.
Back home I went through my files of notes and recipe cutouts and eventually opened up Mark Bittman’s “Fish“. One of his suggestions, “Red Snapper Fillets En Papillote“, almost jumped off the page. It was fairly simple and uncomplicated, and I had all of the ingredients, fresh (all from the Greenmarket) and otherwise, already in the kitchen. Bittman offered it as a basic recipe, to which he provided five variations. I may find one or more of them useful another time, but I was amused by his suggestion, “Its sometimes interesting to make several different combinations at the same meal, so each serving is a surprise”. There were only two of us for dinner, and it was still summer, so I absolutely had to go with the basic recipe, which allowed me to use more of the luscious heirloom tomatoes I had bought from Berried Treasures that day.
The procedure involved placing each fillet on a piece of parchment (large enough to enclose it once the other ingredients were added), then layering them with thin red potato slices (from Keith’s Farm) and thicker slices of red and yellow tomato, sprinkling them with salt & pepper and shredded basil (from Stokes Farm), then drizzling them with oil. The sealed packages were placed in a pan and baked at 450˚ for about 20 minutes (I think I removed it when I smelled the aromas) .
I had also picked up a few beautiful small zucchini and yellow squash from Sycamore Farms at the Greenmarket that day. Thinking that my paper-wrapped entrée might not be quite enough for a meal without a first course, I started thinking about what I might do with them as a side dish. In a hurry for ideas, I went to the internet and quickly came up with a 1997 recipe from Gourmet magazine, “Grilled Zucchini With Black Olives And Mint“. Great! I had the Kalamata olives, some lemon, and a bunch of mint bought from Franca at Berried Treasures in the Greenmarket that day. I pan-grilled diagonal slices of both the yellow and green squash, for color, before baking the fish packages, and kept them warm in a bowl on top of the oven (which is, handily, next to the burners on my 1931 Magic Chef.
It was one of those meals where everything comes together perfectly. It was totally delicious, with everything complimenting everything else. And it was all so easy. As the cook I also appreciated that I had nothing to do for twenty minutes after placing the entrée in the oven except sip on a Martini and nibble a few thin breadsticks. I’m now totally sold on the en Papillote thing, for the rest period it affords, for everything being cooked á point, for the flavors having ended both blended and subtly distinguishable, and for the fact that everything was wickedly juicy. I was also surprised that the seasoning needed no adjustment whatsoever.
Also, to tell the truth, I thought the meal looked awesome, no small matter for me.
Two more bonuses of the en papillotte technique: First, it was amazing to find that while we were enjoying the fish at a very leisurely pace, it stayed warm throughout (not an easy thing to arrange when cooking fish). Second, the parchment-wrapped fish with its vegetables completed (in fact, more than dominated) the plate all by itself (I served the squash on a side plate), and so gave the impression of a much more luxurious portion than it was, although we did not feel the least bit deprived.
Finally, I only thought about it when I began to consider this post, but it was definitely satisfying to realize that the ingredients for the entire meal were pretty inexpensive. Of course, as always, there’s real economy (of both cost and time) in cooking regularly.