So here I am, it’s that trip that I bianually pent myself up for..LONDON!!! Representing all things indulgent, such as food, sleep, food, it is that moment where guilt is shoved aside to make space for whims and impulses, after all they can’t all live in the same world. This time, I showed up to London feeling more entitled than ever. My recent graduation from the French Culinary Institute was enlightening but let us not underestimate the elbow grease invlolved in getting me there.
The flight to London was filled with hallucinations of me putting my feet up and my kids outsourced to my parents. Bliss. As we walked through immigration, I could hear my parents, uncles and aunts and cousins yell out various terms of endearment to welcome us along with “congratulations Saira!! We want to taste every thing you have learnt cooking for the past 6 months at school!” They had to be kidding with me. Was I really going to labour over a hot stove making and skimming stocks and sauces before I could even put a dish together? Given the willfullness of my family and my lameness of being tired, protesting would have been a waste of words. School taught me many elaborate techniques, but it also taught me to be tastfully smart in the kitchen. That’s when I turned to my ‘fish en papillote’. This dish is simple to assemble and yet it’s taste and appearance has never failed to woo me. The fish is baked in parchment paper parcels and cooked with aromas of tomatoes and garlic, mushrooms, celery and leeks. With looks to kill and a taste to match, from a distant glance one could be intimidated by the technique involved. Allow me to let you in on a secret. Nothing could be easier and the only effort required is to actually purchase the parchement paper (available at your local grocers). Simply wrap the fish and pop in the oven and enjoy watching your guests as they tear the paper and close their eyes as the steam and aromas waft over their face.
4 x 4oz pieces of white fish, such as, cod, hake, sea bass
2 shallots, finely sliced in rounds1 zucchini, julienned
6 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped in to small cubes
1 bay leaf
2 cloves 1of garlic, crushed
8oz cremini mushrooms, finely sliced
8oz shitake mushrooms, finely sliced
3 leeks, (discard dark green parts), thin strips & 2cm long
2 celery sticks, thin strips & 2cm long
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
1) Set the oven to 375F
2) Tomato coulis: Sweat the shallot until tender without caramelizing. Add the chopped and deseeded tomatoes, bayleaf and crushed garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cover until tender. Once the tomaotes are soft, cook uncovered until all the moisture has evaporated. Set aside.
3) Saute the mushroom in small batches in a sautepan and season with salt. Cook until the moisture has evaporated, drain on paper towels and set aside.
4) Add the leeks to a saucepan and fill half way with water. Season with salt and a knob of butter. Bring to a boil and then simmer with a lid. Once the leeks are tender, drain on paper towels. Repeat with the celery. Set aside
1) The Pretty option: Fold a large piece of parchment paper in half. Cut half a heart with the heart points against the folded edge. Open and you will have a perfect heart. On one half of the heart, add a base of 2 tblsp of the tomato coulis. Lay fish on top and lay the trio of vegetables on the fish. Brush the heart ends with oil and fold the edges in 1 cm long fold along the heart opening to seal them tight. Brush the top of the heart with oil and place in the oven for 10 minutes. The heart will puff up and the fish will cook in the steam created by the vegetables.
2) The No Fuss rustic option: Place the pieces of fish in A4 sheet sized parchment paper, layer the fish as directed above. Fold the paper over lenghtwise and tightly crimp the paper ends (to look like an old fashined wrapped candy). Brush with oil.
Serve by itself or a simple green salad
Pearls of Wisdom
Make sure to drain all excess water in the vegetables before cooking with the fish or the parcels will get too watery. Also, make sure the leeks are thorougly washed to remove all soil and grit. The best way to do this is to cut slits along the length of the leeks and wash between the layers