Monday, November 29, 2010

Sake Fish en Papillote

I cook real food, too, you know. It’s not all ice cream and frozen yogurt and rugelach and brownies. I even cook and eat things without butter or cheese or any dairy products whatsoever in them sometimes – food that some might even consider “healthy”. Of course, it helps when such things are also delicious.

The intersection of healthy and delicious is an ideal, and one that oftentimes seems unattainable. We all know that definitely need not be so. Certain methods of cooking tend to produce healthier results. Steaming is one such method, but one that has gotten a rather bad rap. Thinking back to the steaming of our childhoods often conjures up images of sadly steamed broccoli releasing its sulfuric compounds, an unfortunate byproduct of overcooking cruciferous vegetables (that's whymost of us probably never liked Brussels sprouts much growing up, though we know how great those can be). When we dwell on comfort foods, odds are we're not hankering for anything steamed - it just doesn't carry with it delicious connotations. But that needn't be so.

But steaming, like Brussels sprouts, shouldn't be feared. Baking in parchment paper essentially allows the contents nestled within the package to steam, since the heat created during the cooking process is trapped within the package. Baking in parchment is a great little trick to have in your arsenal - it is incredibly simple - just throw a few things on a parchment (aluminum foil often works if you don't have parchment on hand), throw it in the oven for a few minutes, and just like that - like magic, really - what lies within emerges perfectly cooked. And yes, what you're eating is, in fact, steamed - but you needn't say so.

Fish en papillote, which literally means "in parchment" is the french term for baking things within a little package - and doesn't it just sound so much nicer than "steamed fish"? It's a phenomenally easy thing to prepare for a dinner party as well, you could plate it unopened, so as to require audience participation. It's always exciting to open a present, and that is no less true when there are delicious scents emanating from the package.

Sake Steamed Fish en Papillote
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2009

This recipe couldn't be easier - you throw some things in parchment, tie it up, with scallions if you want to be fancy about it, with string if not, throw it in the oven and forget about it for a few minutes. It sounds so much more complicated than that though, but who's to know? Regardless of how you advertise it, what you're left with when you open that package is something fragrant, delicate, delicious and blessedly healthy. I served it with some sauteed baby bok choy and brown rice for a round, wholesome meal.

1/3 cup sake
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated peeled ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 (6-ounce) pieces skinless fillet of any firm, white fish (about 1 inch thick), bones removed
1/3 cup sliced scallions

Note: You'll also need two 12ish-inch squares of parchment paper and, to tie up your parcels, some string or a couple of scallions.

Preheat oven to 400°F with a baking sheet on bottom rack.

In a bowl, stir together sake, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sugar.

If fish fillets are more than 4 inches long, fold ends under. Put a fish fillet in the center of each piece of parchment paper and sprinkle with salt. Divide scallions evenly, sprinkling them on top of each fillet. Holding up two corners of the parchment paper to prevent liquid from running off everywhere, spoon one half of the sake mixture over the top of one one the portions. Gather the sides of the aprchment paper together to form a pouch encasing the fish, make sure there are no openings through which the steam can escape, and tie tightly with string or a scallion. (If using a scallion to tie the pouch, quickly steam it so that it softens, which will prevent them from snapping when you try to form a knot.)

Bake on hot baking sheet until fish is just cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.

Serves 2.