A recipe, of all things

Tuesday, July 22 2003 @ 01:59 AM PDT

Contributed by: matt

I like seafood. I just don't do bivalves (except for stuffed quahogs, but that's really just fish flavored stuffing with Durkee RedHot (tm) splashed on top, so it ain't exactly a fair comparison).

Generally, I don't end up eating a lot of seafood though, because I have a fundamental problem with the way that it's done in Boston. You start with really good fish that's only been dead for about the same amount of time that the patron has waited for a table, then screw it up to the point that it more closely resembles something you'd find in the Gorden's section of the frozen food aisle.


The way I see it, if people don't like fish, don't order fish. The way that restaurants see it, if you dumb down the fish enough, everybody will be able to stand it.

Here's a deceptively simple recipe for really good fish (this works for any fish, though it's overkill for swordfish, which should be cooked without seasoning and served with a couple of lemon wedges):

(serves 2-3)
1 fish fillet, give or take about a pound.
1 1/2 whole lemons
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. minced garlic
aluminum foil

Take the fish fillet and rinse it in cold water*.

Lay down a sheet of aluminum foil approximately 30 inches long, and lay the fillet lengthwise near one end. Fold the edges of the foil up to prevent juices from ending up on your counter.

Melt the butter in the microwave, and squeeze as much lemon juice as you can into the liquified butter.**

Baste the fillet with the lemon butter, working it in as much as possible, but don't be afraid of the puddles that should form on the foil all around the fillet, as these are essential for the rest of the preparation.

Spread the garlic evenly in the space on the foil around the fish. Ideally, the garlic never touches the fish directly (though that rarely works out).

Lightly sprinkle the cilantro the same way.

Now, here's the tricky part.

Take the aluminum foil and create a sealed envelope around the fillet. Start by folding it in half (your fish is over by one end, right?), then curl all four edges in on themselves. This should create a relatively watertight pouch.

I prefer to use a gas grill on medium heat, but if yours is charcoal, just make sure you're working with low coals. We're not cooking a porterhouse here. If you can't manage a grill, it will work in your oven too.

On the grill, I keep it on the warmer for 15-20 minutes on medium heat, flipping it over every five minutes or so. Every cook surface will be different, so try to figure yours accordingly, and err on the side of longer, because if you open that envelope, and you need to put it back on you may have a mess.

The good news is that as long as flames aren't actually touching the foil, it's very unlikely that you'll burn the meat if you leave it on for too long.

The rationale behind this whole thing is that those puddles of garlic cilantro lemon butter that are all around the fillet will boil (making the envelope relatively airtight ensures that they don't boil off too quickly), effectively steaming the fish with an aromatic blend while it simultaneously cooks normally.

The result should be a relatively unblemished fillet, in that it should look cooked, but not particularly seared, charred, or covered in crap. The fillet should retain all of its fish flavor, with any "fishiness" (fish oil, actually) offset by the lemon flavor, and with subtle twinges of seasoning from the butter, garlic and cilantro.

Here's the best part. If you like fish at all, even if you screw up this recipe entirely***, I guarantee you'll have an edible fillet, so this is essentially no risk.

Something along the lines of a rice pilaf goes well on the side, though wild rice with a little lemon butter mixed in also goes very well. If you're going to have a vegetable, make it a reasonably light one (not asparagus or broccoli, for example). Maybe some fresh green beans or pea pods lightly steamed so that they still snap when you bite into them.

I am so making myself hungry right now.

If anyone tries this out while it's still grill season, I'd love to hear reactions.

* This should be done as the first step in preparation. Never rinse saltwater fish in fresh water before freezing. The combination of osmosis and ice crystals will destroy the meat, at which point it's pretty much only good for fish chowder.

** The lemon is the base flavor for the seasoning, so emphasis should be made on getting as much lemon juice as possible. The butter is there to add a little richness, and the garlic and cilantro are there to support the flavor. Basically, we're seasoning the fillet, not trying to mask its flavor.

*** If you do manage to burn it, you're on your own.