The food I cook during the week often comes about without a plan or a recipe. It’s made up of a combination of leftovers, fridge finds and cupboard staples. Every now and then I come up with something particularly nice for dinner and B. says “You should put this on the blog”, and even though I like it too, I’m not convinced. It would feel a little bit like cheating – it was just chance that made me come up with that dish, not a distinct thought process, a rielaboration of a particular recipe, or the researched and tested combination of a few ingredients. Nevertheless, that kind of food is my favourite. There isn’t any effort, any thought that goes into developing the recipe. Well, there isn’t a recipe. It is the fortuitous encounter between a (partially) random set of ingredients, my creativity and the need to cook something quick and cheap. This is how I started baking all manners of fish in parchment.
A couple of years ago I watched a cookery TV show. I seem to remember it was Rachel Khoo’s programme for the BBC. In one of the episodes, I remember the host wrapping a piece of fish in some baking parchment, along with some shredded fennel and possibly some boiled potatoes, then baking it. I had heard of pesce al cartoccio, or en papillote before, but seeing how it was prepared made me want to try it. Over time I’ve simplified it and adapted so that all I need to do is buy the fish (any fish). The rest of the ingredients I always have in the house: fresh herbs, lemon and oil. Why do people fuss so much about fish? Along with fillet beef steak, it has to be the food that benefits more from the simplest cooking. Yet, a lot of people I know put on a worried expression as soon as the conversation turns to cooking fish at home. People: this is easy. Cooking fish in a parcel traps the moisture in, so that you’re effectively steaming it. The only thing you need to worry about is wrapping the fish so that there’s enough space for it to ‘breath’, but tight enough so that it doesn’t open while in the oven. Herb fish parcels have become my default when cooking fish, so much so that now I have to challenge myself to try other ways of cooking fish.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut as many pieces of baking parchment as servings/people you’re feeding. The pieces need to be large enough so that you have enough parchment to fold it over on both sides – more details on how to do this later on. If using fillets: lay each fillet on the parchment, scatter the herbs, some salt and pepper, drizzle some oil and lay a couple of lemon slices. If using whole fish: stuff the fish with herbs (I chop them for oily fish like mackerel, keep them whole for more delicately flavoured fish), salt, pepper and slices of lemon. Drizzle the fish with oil. To wrap the parcels: bring together over the fish the two ends on the long side and fold them together a couple of times. You need to leave some space for the steam but also make sure the fold doesn’t let steam escape during baking. Next, bring together the loose ends and tie them tightly with a piece of string. I keep the string long enough so that I can tie both ends with it, hence creating a handle to lift the whole parcel (see picture above). Place on a baking tray and bake for 12-15 mins (this will depends on the size of your fish – make sure it’s cooked through before eating). Serve the parcels on a plate, still sealed.