Saturday 27 February 2016

Cod with holy basil, roasted in a paper bag

Not a hint of dryness. Cod at the table (hence funny candle light) with charred Romaine in a lemon vinaigrette,
slow roasted toms and sweet pickled fennel. The fennel roast potatoes came later.

Holy or Thai basil
The joy of cooking in a paper bag - or en papillotte as the French insist on calling it - is the opening. All the aromas are captured, to be released in a steamy plume of aplomb, under the noses of guests. It normally elicits a reaction; a nice piece of table theatre. The other advantage of cooking fish with this technique is it maximises moistness. The fish should come out a tad off translucence, just flaking. It's a very forgiving way to cook too, although timing is still critical, but not like with pan frying. You can also do this for lots of people whereas I would never attempt to pan fry twelve fillets!

This a variation of Salmon en papillote, one of the most popular dishes we do. Cod needs different treatment however as it's a much more tender fish. Too hot an oven will tighten up the fish, squeezing out essential moisture, leading to a dry, tough, fillet surrounded by juice.

It's a dish that maximises the virtues of aromatic ingredients so I'm using lemon and holy basil, also known as Thai basil. This is widely available. Waitrose seems to always have stock. Holy basil, with its distinctive purple stems, is sweeter, more delicate and even more aromatic than the usual green basil. The purple is, ahem, also prettier on the reveal.

If you're cooking for family, or guests you don't really care for, you can use one big paper bag for all the fish. This is a faff saver but does mean you take time to plate up. The fish can get cold. At the supper club we do individual bags, brought to table with a wedge of charred Romaine lettuce dowsed in a lemon vinaigrette and some slow roasted tomatoes. I don't sauce this dish; the tomato juices and the vinaigrette bring enough. I also don't want to overpower this subtle fish.

Cod with holy basil, in a paper bag.

I love the colours of this
Allow at least a 300g portion of skinless cod loin per person. UK supermarkets will be useless for your needs, sorry. Even the wet fish counter will struggle to sell you a decent sized cod fillet... and if they do, they will charge you plenty. The pre-portioned fish on the cold shelves simply isn't fresh enough in my opinion. Just look at how long a 'sell by' they have. And remember, fresh fish doesn't smell. You need a fishmonger. Check for bones by running your fingers into the flesh. You might need to tweezer a few out.

Tear off an A3 size of baking paper and fold in the middle. Place the fillet near the fold and drizzle with a good, neutral oil - rice bran, groundnut etc. You can use olive oil of course, if you want an olive oil favour - I don't. season well with sea salt - but no pepper. Place on two thin slices of lemon and two sprigs of holy basil, enough to cover the whole fillet (as pictured). Fold the paper over and start to fold the sides in, one small fold over the other, securing the end with a few twists. It will look a little like a paper Cornish pasty. This should create a leak proof bag which will puff up. If in doubt, secure the edges with wooden pegs. Place the bags on a baking tray. It doesn't matter if the bags overlap but not the fillets inside should have some air around them. Use two trays rather than overcrowding.

Cook for 12 minutes in a 180°C oven. The fish will continue to cook inside the bag and on the plates, if they're hot.

Lemon vinaigrette
Enough for at least eight
I'm going to include my recipe for lemon vinaigrette but I'm aware that it involves a few esoteric ingredients, not least my own home made, extra zingy lemon syrup. I'm doing this partly for my own benefit - this blog started as, and remains, my own cooking reference.

Over a bowl, to preserve the lemon oils, zest one large lemon. Add the squeezed juice. Now add: a big pinch of sea salt, a twist of black pepper, two tablespoons of A l'Olivier citron pamplemousse vinegar, a tablespoon of lemon syrup, four tablespoons of rape seed oil (or groundnut) and two teaspoons of Dijon mustard. Whisk well before transferring to a bottle. Shake well before using.

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