Recipe: Bream baked in paper

There’s nothing original at all in this recipe, but it is still one of my favourite preparations for fish and worth sharing for that reason alone.  Very easy, but some care required in assembling the paper bag and getting the rice right.

Serves 1

Ingredients

1 sea bream or other whole fish for one (a small bass or trout, for example).  Ask the fishmonger to scale and gut it for you or do it yourself

5-10 sprigs of lemon thyme

2 bay leaves

A lemon

1 clove garlic

1 shallot

2 or 3 sticks of celery

80mL basmati rice

160mL chicken stock

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Butter

Parchment, greaseproof paper or foil

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  2. Take a large piece of parchment (about 60cm long) and fold it in half.  Trim the edges in such a fashion as when you open it up again it resembles a heart shape.  Unfold and lay the fish with his (or her) belly along the seam and head up the rounded end of the parchment (the “atrium” end, if you like).  If you find the fish doesn’t fit, then try again because you want a good 3-4 cm gap around the edge.
  3. Cut about 3 rounds of lemon.  Chop the garlic finely.  Shove some of the thyme, a bay leaf and a lemon round in the fish’s belly, and then stick the rest of the thyme and lemon rounds, the garlic and the other bay leaf on top.  Drizzle a couple of teaspoons of olive oil over the top, add a small knob of butter (half a tablespoon, say) and a few grinds each of salt and pepper.  You really can use whatever herbs you like actually – I’ve gone for drier, stronger herbs here, but you could equally have used lighter ones like fennel fronds, parsley, chervil, tarragon and so forth, or a julienne of vegetables like leek, carrot, celery and peppers.
  4. Fold the other half of the parchment over the fish and crimp around the edges.  The best technique to ensure it doesn’t unravel is to start with the pointy (ventricle) end facing you and fold the tip up and crease.  Turning the parcel clockwise, repeat at 1-2cm intervals, folding and creasing into overlapping pleats until the parcel is sealed.
  5. Peel and slice the shallot finely.  Dice the celery into about 5mm dice.
  6. Melt about 2tsp butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the shallot and celery and fry until soft (say 5 mins or so).  Add the rice and stir.  Add the (hot) stock, stir once, put a lid on the pan and then place over a very low heat.  (If you are using an electric hob then have one already set at low rather than turning down the heat of the one you were already using because it will take too long for the heat to adjust and everything will be ruined in a Bridget Jones-befitting manner).  Leave for about 12 minutes.
  7. Bake the fish for 15-20 minutes.
  8. Check the rice to see if it is cooked.  If it is underdone add a bit more stock, stir to combine and leave for a few more minutes.
  9. Serve the fish in the paper bag beside the rice with some extra lemon wedges.  Eat it straight off the bone (be careful of pin-bones – Gregg and Michel Jr would NOT approve, but we’re amongst friends here) and don’t forget to use all those delicious juices that have accumulated in the bag.

Wine suggestion: 1/3 of a bottle of 2008 Coto de Gomariz Ribeiro left over from the night before. Jancis Robinson puts it better than I could: “Coto de Gomariz 2008 Ribeiro is made up of about 80% Treixadura with a blend of the other Galician varieties Godello, Loureira and Albariño. This wine smells most excitingly of fresh green leaves and then on the palate delivers tense, smoky fruit – a little bit like Clos Ste-Hune in structure. [Clos Ste-Hune is a very famous and expensive Riesling from Alsace that costs over £100 a bottle; the Coto de Gomariz costs about £12-£14]. This is a white wine that is really persistent and yet is much more refreshing than the average full-bodied dry white.”  It is, quite accidentally, a perfect match – baked white fish normally likes a light white (not the milk, if you’re Australian) but this one has a bit of depth to it that matches the herbs well, without sacrificing that refreshing acidity that I find so attractive.

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