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Southeast Asian Fish en Pappillote

Posted on | December 4, 2013 | Written by David Klay | No Comments

imageI have often heard it said that the best things you cook are a result of just rummaging about your kitchen and using what you have on hand—or better still, when you stay in season and you use what looks best in the market that day. This mantra is what I kept in mind when I came up with the recipe below. I used the ingredients I had on hand and created a spin on a cooking method what the French call en papillote, that’s to say, fish cooked in a sealed package in the oven, either the traditional method in parchment, tied with twine or wrapped in aluminum foil. What I think sets this dish apart is the fact that I used Southeast Asian inspired ingredients, rather than the usual lemon, herbs and white wine.  My inspiration for this recipe comes from a Thai soup called Tom Kha that has a similar method of blending all of the soup ingredients before adding to a stock base and adding your choice of protein, such as shrimp or chicken.  My favorite part of the whole experience is the amazing aromas that fill the kitchen, first when you blend the sauce and as you are cooking the fish in the oven. The ginger, soy, lime and chili among other various elements seem to jump out of the plate and gives you a hint of what you are about to enjoy.

I’d advise using a firm-fleshed fish like salmon or sea bass as either will hold up well to braising in the rich sauce. More delicate fish like flounder or tilapia would work too, though you run the risk of it flaking into the sauce. This is entirely up to you though; if what you want is the sauce taking center stage to the fish, go for delicate, if you want to really taste the fillet, salmon is the way to go. I chose salmon.

Besides the wonderful aroma, I am a huge fan of the way in which the heat of the chili is offset by the fish sauce, lime, soy and herbs. What you get isn’t as spicy as it is warming and inviting, which is perfect for this time of year when there is a chill in the air.

Southeast Asian Fish in Parcel

1 inch fresh ginger

2 spring onions

1 large clove garlic

1 or 2 fresh chili, deseeded (Serrano or Thai birds eye)

1 tsp ground cardamom

1 tbs fish sauce

1tsp soy sauce

2 kaffir lime leaf (bought dried or frozen)

Handful fresh cilantro or parsley

1 fresh lime, juiced

2 tbs. vegetable oil

A few drops of water as needed

2 filleted pieces of your fish of choice (salmon, flounder, sea bass…)

Put all of the sauce ingredients in the blender and blitz until smooth (you might need to add a bit of water to help everything blend). If you cannot find kaffir lime leaves, lime zest works too.

Place your fish fillet either in parchment paper (tied with kitchen twine) or aluminum foil. Pour the sauce over the fish and seal the package. Place in a 375 degree F oven for 15 or 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillet. Serve over rice or with naan bread.

As for wine pairing, I’d say white wine, though with such strong flavors, you need something that can hold up to this sauce. For this reason, I’m going to suggest the white wines by Josko Gravner. Yesterday at IWM, we presented an offer on his wines from the 90’s through to 2005. What is so special about Gravner’s whites are that they drink like reds. They are rich and sumptuous. are hefty in their mouthfeel, which I think would pair wonderfully to this intensely aromatic dish. If you haven’t had an opportunity to try a Gravner, I would highly recommend it because they are really one of a kind. The palate is full of stone fruit, honey and zinging minerality along with a touch of citrus.

I would also recommend the wines of Hofstätter, from Alto Adige, such as the estate’s Gewurztraminer. The gutsy flavors in a Gewurztraminer provide a harmonious level of body and aroma to hold up to the sour notes in the fish sauce and lime. Alsatian winemaker Zind-Humbrecht makes a Pinot Gris Clos Saint Urbain that gives fantastic notes of minerality, citrus and nutty taste to counterbalance the herbaceous sauce.

Why not give winter a warm welcome? Embrace it rather than fight against it. Give this a try when what you want is a winter warmer with lots of flavor and when you want to experiment with serving fuller-bodied, spicy white wines.

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