I got a small branzino, serving two, to bake in a foil parcel. It’s eyes were lovely and clear. An easy assessment of how fresh the fish is. I’m bringing this dish to the virtual potluck at IHCC this week. This recipe comes from The River Cottage Fish Book by Huge Fearnley-Whittingstall. The book is presented as a definitive guide to sourcing and cooking sustainable fish and shellfish. It says that right on the cover of the book. As you turn the pages, it seems evident that everything you want to know about fish can be found in this thick 600-page book. In the first chapter, Hugh starts by explaining how fish is good for you.
The known direct health benefits of eating oily fish include a reduced risk of heart attack and type 2 diabetes; lower blood pressure and cholesterol level…. Current research into how omega-3s affect the human brain, and thus human behavior…. Essential fatty acids are necessary for optimal brain function.
So fish is brain food, as my mother had told me in my childhood. Even without a long list of health benefits, we love eating fish – as long as we can get fresh supply. I like getting our fish directly from the fishermen who sell them in the local farmers market. Except they are only selling in the summer months. With Hugh’s fish book and the fishermen bringing their catches to the local farmers market, I am prepared to put a lot of fish dishes on the table during the summer months.
Wrapping the whole fish in foil and bake in one packet can’t be easier. I have another packet recipe using sausages, potatoes and onion that I like to make all the time. It is like one-pot cooking, except no stirring is required. And no pot to clean either. The trick is to seal everything tightly in a packet; double layering may be necessary. The beauty of this method is the ease of preparation, the flavor gets sealed in and the rich aroma is released on your plate as you eat it. That’s a unique experience not to be missed.
Tips: I baked the small branzino for 25 minutes as Hugh has outlined in the recipe and it was slightly overcooked. Since it’s hard to see whether the fish is done or not inside the packet, it is wise to insert a food thermometer at the thickest part of the fish. The fish is done as the internal temperature reaches 140°F. The internal temperature is a much better and reliable guide than any rough time estimate provided by the recipe. It takes the guess work out of your cooking. That’s my little secret as my friends often wonder how I get my fish (or steak) just right every time.
Whole fish baked in a foil parcelPrint Recipe
- One 2-portion size (or two 1-portion-size) sea bass, black beam, or other whole fish, scaled and gutted.
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly squashed with a knife
- A few bay leaves
- 1 lemon
- A few herb sprigs: fennel fronds, thyme and/or flat-leaf parsley (optional)
- 3 ½ tablespoons (50g) unsalted butter
- A glass of white wine
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Season the inside of the fish and put in the squashed garlic, along with a bay leaf or two and one or two slices of lemon. Put in the fresh herbs.
Take a sheet of foil for each fish, large enough to envelop the fish completely. Grease the inside (dull side) with a little of the butter. Put the fish in the center and bring up the sides of the foil a little. Scatter a few more herbs over the fish and dot with the butter. Pour on the wine and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Season again, bring the foil up around the fish and scrunch the edges together until the parcel9s) are completely sealed.
Put the foil parcel(s) on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes for small fish or 30-35 minutes for larger fish. Small flat fish may take less time. The fish is done when the internal temperature reaches 140°F. See the tips below for details.
Bring the parcel(s) straight to the table and open them up on the plate to release a cloud of fragrant steam. The fish will be sitting in a pool of deliciously rich and aromatic juice - your sauce.
I use a thermapen in my cooking and baking regularly, one of the most indispensable tools in the kitchen. But with the thermapen, you have to take the packet out of the oven, open it up before you can test the internal temperature. Or you can set up a temperature probe in the oven at 140°F if that’s a feature available with your particular oven. (Except I can’t calibrate the thermometer to the degree of accuracy I desire.) A thermometer with the probe inserted in the packet in the oven connecting, via a cable, to an alarm outside of the oven would work well in this case. Here is a link to one of these trusted and effective tools, the ThermoWorks chef alarm, recommended by the American Test Kitchen.