February 2, 2011

Hobo Halibut Dinner with Fennel, Zucchini and Olives

Filed under: Seafood — by Carla


I think I’m on to something here.

I’ve found an easy way to cook a complete meal that virtually eliminates the pot and pan cleanup. And to top it off, it’s delicious enough to serve to company. This sort of discovery fosters images of Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold but it isn’t magic that I use to get this quick meal on the table. It’s a French technique called cooking en papillote (ahn pah-pee-yote). Back in West Virginia where I grew up we called it hobo dinner.

You might have eaten a version of this hillbilly treat consisting of foil wrapped packages of vegetables and meat all scrunched up, sealed tight and cooked over a fire’s dancing flames.  Hobo dinner was our favorite meal back in the 60’s when my family spent weeks at a time boating and camping on an island on the Ohio River.  This song by Nat King Cole always takes me back there.


The dads motored thier dinghys to the marina and work every morning leaving moms and kids to days filled with swimming, fishing and generally lazing about. Our houseboats and cruisers  had small water tanks and even smaller sinks, so cooking over the bonfire with only a few dishes to cleanup was the only way to go. I remember the moms setting out canned potatoes, peas and carrots with the requisite kielbasa, hamburgs and hot dogs. Pandering to my tastebuds even as a child, I loved to assemble my own dinner creation just the way I liked it; with zippy mustard squiggled over the top.

This version, however, is decidedly more French than hobo. After all, we aren’t living on an island in the middle of a river with no access to fresh produce. So the plan for tonight’s dinner is halibut perfumed with the flavors of Provence. This “salad” topping of  zucchini,  fennel, garlic, lemon, thyme and salty olives and capers flavors the fish and underlying potatoes with thier juices as they tenderize on the grill or in a hot, hot oven. A sort of fancified tongue in cheek homage to hobo dinners from days gone by, if you will.

Now that I think of it, mom’s reasons for serving hobo dinner 45 years ago were much the same as mine…it’s a delicious, quick meal with minimal cleanup. No magic required.


Kitchen Counter Point: Fish is a natural when cooking with this method because the envelope in which it cooks traps the steam, maintaining a moist environment for the fish and vegetables. Remember that fish cooks quickly (about 7 minutes per inch) so be sure to slice the vegetables very thinly. You want them to be tender just as the fish is finished cooking.

If you’d like to serve this dish up for company go ahead and use the parchment for a more sophisticated presentation. But you must then cook it in the oven since the paper would combust on the grill. There are many how to’s online that show you how to wrap and fold the paper package into an airtight envelope. Just Google “en papillote and how to”.

Serves 2

1 small bulb fennel, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus more
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 lemon zested
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 olives, halved
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and lightly chopped
4 new potatoes, very thinly sliced
2 halibut filets, 6 oz each

Two 15-inch long sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil folded in half and then opened back up so that there’s a crease down the middle.

Preheat the grill to 450 degrees F.
Combine the fennel, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, thyme, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, olives and capers in a medium bowl and toss them to combine the flavors.

Arrange the potato slices in one layer on one side of each of the creased foil sheets. Sprinkle the potato with salt and pepper and lay the halibut filet on top, skin side down. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and top with the vegetables. (It will seem like a lot of vegetables, but they cook down and shrink as they cook.) If you’d like more flavor, drizzle a little  olive oil over the top. Fold the foil over the fish and roll up the edges, bottom up and over the top, to seal in the juices.

Transfer the fish to the grill, close the lid and cook for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the packages from the grill (I use a large spatula), transfer them to two heated plates and open them at the table. A waft of steam scented with herbs and lemon will rise up from the package that you won’t want to miss.

If you’d like to bake the papillote in the oven, place a sheet pan on the bottom rack and preheat to 450 degrees F. Transfer the packages to the heated sheet pan (so they can start cooking right away) and bake the hobo dinner for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. It takes a few moments longer to cook in the oven since the heat isn’t as intense.

Variation: Use other vegetables you may have on hand like thinly sliced carrots, cauliflower, grape tomatoes or broccoli. Remember that the fish cooks very quickly, so cut the vegetables into thin or small pieces to insure that they’ll be tender when the fish is done. Other fish to try are salmon, cod, tilapia or trout. Swap out other favorite herbs as well such as basil, rosemary, or tarragon.

April 2, 2010

Pan Fried Arctic Char with Red Wine Sauce

Filed under: Seafood — by Carla


I’ve been craving fish lately. Like my father before me, I have a tendency to cater to my body’s cravings… not always healthy ones vis à vis Belvedere martinis and Vosges chocolate, but I do sometimes find the will to accommodate wholesome urges.  And so this morning I set off to the fishmonger to scope out his most recent arrivals. As luck would have it, there were many worthy fish in the case to choose from but I couldn’t resist the call of the Arctic char. Its beautiful dappled skin glistened. Its neon orange flesh looked rich and moist. He had obviously been swimming only moments before. A magnificent specimen, I had them wrap him up with a little bag of ice to keep chilled for the ride home.

A quick stop at the grocery rounded out dinner. A few bunches of aspiration broccoli found their way into my cart along with a bag of cremini mushrooms for a risotto. But, before continuing on I must succumb to a bit of a brag. This was no ordinary week-night. My son Corey and his soon-to-be bride, Lyndsey, were coming over for a celebratory dinner. A recent college graduate, he’d just gotten his first “real” job.

Because I wanted the meal to be prepared quickly once the kids arrived, I made the risotto earlier in the day, chilled it off and shaped it into risotto cakes which are quite possibly even better than risotto with their crispy outsides and creamy ins. The leggy broccoli needed only a zap in a pan with nothing more than olive oil and garlic. As for the fish, after a quick sauté I made a red wine sauce by adding a bit of shallot and about 3/4 cup of wine to the pan. I used an Oregon pinot noir since that was the wine that we were drinking at the moment. In about 2 minutes it had reduced sufficiently and only required a tablespoon or so of butter to gloss it up.

As you can imagine, the fish was superb. So fresh and artlessly prepared, it was a lesson in simplicity. While sipping the last of the wine, I mused on a day that began with a craving for fish and ended with two cravings satisfied. One for the tastebuds and another in witnessing two young lives successfully launched. Ahhh… life is good.


Kitchen Counter Point: The simple rule to remember when cooking fish is 7 minutes per inch. So if your filet is about 1-inch thick, it will take roughly 7 minutes to cook it through. Because it takes a minute or so for the cooking to actually begin, I usually cook a filet for about 4 minutes on the first side and then 3 on the second side. I use a medium high heat because I like the flesh to brown a little. When cooking a thicker filet like halibut, I will brown it on both sides and then pop it in a hot oven, pan and all, for about 5 minutes so that it has a chance to cook through. Simple, really.

Serves 4

4 six ounce filets of arctic char, skin on
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
3/4  cup red wine (pinot noir, syrah, or a blend)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Salt and pepper the fish. Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and when hot add the fish skin side up. Cook for about 4 minutes, flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer the fish to a heated plate and cover with foil.

Pour off any fat in the pan. Return the pan to the heat and add the shallot. Saute for about 1 minute or until the shallot is tender. Add the wine and cook for about 2 minutes or until reduced by half. Add the butter and swirl to blend.

Plate the fish and pour over the red wine sauce. Serve immediately.

March 17, 2009

Fish Tacos

Filed under: Seafood — by Meredith

Fish Tacos

Although we’ve grilled fish many times for tacos with good success, the fact is, there is no fish taco like a fried fish taco. We can’t explain how, what seems like the better half of English fish and chips landed in a taco, but we’re glad it did. The light and crispy fish is settled into a warm, soft corn tortilla, covered in seasoned cabbage and drizzled with a lime-spiked sour cream sauce. I think we’ll pass on the malt vinegar and fries. Give us a fish taco any time.Makes 12 tacos

Twelve 6-inch corn tortillas
2 -1/2 cups shredded green cabbage
2-1/2 cups shredded red cabbage
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup beer (not dark)
1 pound cod fillet (or haddock, hake, tilapia) cut into 3- by 1-inch strips

Sour Cream, Lime, Cilantro Sauce (recipe follows)
Pico de Gallo (page …)

4 limes, quartered
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Separate tortillas and make 2 stacks of 6. Wrap each stack in foil and heat in oven 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the red and green cabbage. Toss with 1-1/2 tablespoons lime juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
Heat 1 inch of oil in a large heavy sauce pan) over medium heat until a deep-fat thermometer registers 360 degrees F. Stir together flour and salt in a large bowl, then stir in beer (batter will be thick). Add fish to batter and toss gently to coat. Lift each piece of fish out of batter, shaking off any excess batter. Carefully place fish into the oil and fry in batches, turning once or twice, until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

To Assemble: Top a tortilla with a piece of fish, sour cream sauce, salsa and cabbage. Squeeze lime over filling, fold tortillas, and eat.

Sour Cream, Lime, Cilantro Sauce

1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
Zest of one lime
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons milk

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.