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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sea Bass In A Sack

Also known as "al Cartoccio", (Italian) or "en Pappilotte" (French). Both mean "to steam in paper"; specifically, parchment paper. In my house, it's called "fish in a sack".
This classic preparation is simple, delicious, quick, and easy on the calories.

I decided to prepare this fish dish at the beginning of the new year...You know that time of year when I'm making my New Year's Resolutions shopping for the upcoming beach vacation? Yep, it's time to get healthy and drop a few pounds. Then I can go to an all inclusive and eat with abandon.

This dish can be prepared in a multitude of ways, using almost any type of fish and veg you like. We're going classic Sea Bass, (I got a box of frozen fillets at Costco), and veg I had in the fridge, along with some white wine, lemon, and extra virgin olive oil.
Here's what we start with:

First, let's start with the sea bass. Place it on a few sheets of paper towels to absorb any excess moisture. Season it with salt and pepper, and let it hang out while you prep the veg. This is the only chance you have to add flavor to the fish. Be generous with the salt and pepper. Use good salt. I used "fleur de Sel" because it has a big grind and beautiful, mild flavor. Kosher or sea salt will also work well. Please, whatever you do, do not use the table salt with the little girl on the front of the carton spilling salt behind her! Your fish will just taste salty, not well seasoned.

Let's prep the veg. Cut all of the veg about the same size, so everything gets done at the same time. If using hard vegetables, like carrots and peppers, julienne them thinly. This dish cooks in less than 15 minutes, tops, so keep them thin.
Get out a big bowl. Toss all of the veg into it when you're done prepping that veg.
Peel and cut the carrot into thirds.

Then slice them up. I have edited this pic 6 times, rotating it, flipping it, etc. Does no good. Still sideways.

Now for the leeks. If you turn your head sideways, it looks O.K.

Then quarter it.

Then Julienne.

Then wash and pat dry with paper towels.

Core, seed, and julienne the pepper. I used yellow, because I had one in the fridge. Red or orange would be great, too.

Now, quarter the zucchini.

Then julienne them, as well.

Broccolette. I found these cuties at Whole Foods. They're smaller and thinner than regular broccoli. You could also use broccolini. If you want to use regular broccoli, you'll have to peel the outer stems off, as they will be tough.

Grab a couple big handfuls of baby spinach.

And throw it into the bowl with the other veg.

Colorful food is pretty, and good for you, too.
O.K., just like the fish, we only have one shot at getting flavor into the veg. Pour a couple Tbls good extra virgin olive oil over the top. Do not use canola or vegetable oil!

Add a big pinch of Kosher salt.

And a few cranks of fresh cracked pepper.

And give it a toss with your hands.

Set the bowl aside. Now comes the hard part. Making a heart shape with parchment paper. I got as far as putting a rectangular piece of parchment onto my cutting board before calling my lil' friend, Kate, to help me make a heart. I never have been good at crafts.

So, you need a fairly large sheet, about 9"x11". Here's where Kate comes in: She folded the parchment in half, and drew a half circle in pecil. I swear, I had absolutely no idea how to do this.

Then, she cut along the line,
opened it up, and walah! A heart! She is one smart kid.

You'll need one parchment heart per serving. Next time, I'm going to use rectangles. They're much easier, and I won't have to have a 6th grader come help me.
Now, brush your heart with extra virgin olive oil and pile some veg onto one side. Top it with one fillet.

Top the fish with a big slice of lemon.

And close up the parchment, rolling the ends together to no steam escapes. Just before you seal this sucker shut, add about 1/4 cup dry white wine to the bag. Remember we're steaming here, so the liquid added must have flavor. If you don't want to add wine, you could add a little chicken stock, maybe some soy sauce, or a bit of crushed tomato...

In order to crank these out, make an assembly line. Lay out all of the parchment. Then paint them all with oil, then top them all with veg...(you get the picture).
Put them on a baking sheet, and pop them in a pre-heated 450 (F) degree oven for about 10-15 minutes. I left my sacks in the oven for almost 15 minutes, as my fish was an inch and a half thick x 2 1/2 inches wide x 2 1/2 inches tall. It was just a big chunk of fish. If you're using thinner fish, like talapia, orange roughy, salmon, scallops, err on the side of caution and check one after 10 minutes.

When done, place one sack on each plate, and cut open down the center of the sack with a knife. Be sure to take in the wonderful aroma as you release the steam. It's absolutely divine!

Note: If you have leftover veg after making your packets, make a sack for the veg and put it in the oven with the rest of the packets.

4 thick seabass fillets (Or halibut, or salmon, etc.)
1 leek, julienned
1 large carrot, julienned
1 large zucchini, julienned
1 sweet bell pepper, julienned
3 cups baby spinach
1 small bunch broccolette or broccolini
Fresh thyme leaves, stripped from about 5 sprigs
1 tsp fresh tarragon, minced (optional)
1 cup dry white wine, divided
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling over veg and lightly painting on parchment
Good salt and fresh cracked pepper

Place fish on a big layer of paper towels and season with good salt and pepper.
Julienne all veg, except baby spinach, and place in a big bowl.
Add spinach to bowl.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Make 4 parchment hearts. (Or rectangles).
Using a pastry brush, brush parchment with extra virgin olive oil.
Pile a mound of veg on one side of the parchment, followed by a fish fillet and a slice of lemon.
Make an airtight sack by folding and rolling edges of parchment together.
Before sealing, add 1/4 cup white wine to sack, then seal tightly.
Place on a baking sheet in a pre-heated 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, depending upon thickness of fish.
Serve packets on plates and cut open with a knife.

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About Me

Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States
I'm a home cook that can put some good tasting food on the table, most of the time. My family knows dinner is ready when the fire alarm goes off.