Unpacking Heat

September 3, 2012

At 25, I was living on Race Street in a high-rise loft, spending a lot of time in the kitchen slicing off the tips of my fingers. It’s a period of time I like to call Fish University because I was obsessed––completely obsessed––with fish cookery. This was before culinary school or the restaurant, so I was studying cookbooks like they were textbooks. When I wasn’t sprawled out on the kitchen floor getting busy with Mark Bittman and Alton Brown, I was geeking out with turbot, snapper, salmon, halibut, haddock, anything I could get my hands on. Friends and family pleaded for me to end the madness but I soldiered on. To hell with them. I would learn how to cook fish even if it meant mercury poisoning and slow, painful deaths for us all.

One of my earliest successes was fish “en papillote,” or “in paper.” This is, of course, fish and other aromatics wrapped in parchment paper and steamed in the oven. I loved how it turned out moist, perfectly tender fish. But most of all, I loved the theatrics at the dinner table. The moment everyone opened up their packages.

Here’s what to expect: a violent wave of seriously pissed-off steam. A fish facial. Then, the kinder, gentler smells of lemon, herbs and garlic. But never mind these things, because this is what you’ve come for: the juice. Juice from the fish, from the tomatoes, from the lemon, from the white wine. Together, swirling in a pool. Dripping down your chin, soaking your shirtsleeve, making a mess of the table.

I’ll admit, my fish education is still far from over. I still fool around with Mark Bittman on the kitchen floor every now and again. (He’s every bit as good as they say.) But my husband’s cool with it. He never did get mercury poisoning. And even if he had, he’d still request this dish. It’s that hot.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin M Threlfall September 3, 2012 at 7:00 am

I really enjoy your blog. The writing, pictures and recipes are all delightful. Well done!

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Courtney September 3, 2012 at 7:12 am

How very kind of you, Erin.

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Dale September 3, 2012 at 8:12 am

Still funny, but very sassy. You could serve that meal any Sunday you care. Keep cooking. Keep writing.

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Courtney September 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Who you callin’ sassy?

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Bonnie September 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Glad to see you’re writing again. I always look forward to new posts.

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kathie September 24, 2012 at 6:33 am

My husband had a similar recipe, although a bit more rustic, on a fishing trip in Canada many years ago. I still make it to this day, it’s 1 of our favorites. I like to use italian stewed tomatoes sometimes, for little extra flavor and juice.

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