Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's In The Bag

I was recently speaking with a friend about cooking and wondered why as a foodie, she didn't cook at home more often. She said that cooking a full meal for one person was just too difficult and time consuming to do, and that spending an hour in the kitchen cooking just for herself seemed like a waste of time. I countered (from previous years of experience) that cooking for one is actually a huge advantage when making a fast and delicious meal, and that I could prove it. And so I set forth to make a complete meal (protein, veggies and a side) with minimal effort and in half an hour.

One of the secrets to making a fast, delicious and healthy meal, regardless of the quantity, is to start with fish or seafood. They're the quickest cooking of all proteins and need very little attention, no matter how you prep them. I like a nice center-cut fillet of halibut because it has very little fat, beautiful flavor, and cooks through in ten minutes. Cod or salmon would work just as well and be slightly more affordable, but shrimp are also a great choice.

Another secret to making a fast meal is to cook it en papillote, which means nothing more than cooking in a parchment or foil packet. There's no need to dirty a pan or end up with a house reeking of fish. Simply heat your oven, toss your fish fillet onto a piece of parchment paper (or foil if you're in a pinch) with salt, pepper and a little olive oil, and fold the edges over to create a nice seal. The fish and anything else you toss in the packet will steam and be ready in less than ten minutes. I like to add two or three types of veggies, whatever is in season and steams nicely. This time of year I'd use cauliflower, leeks, squash, turnips, potatoes, and pretty much any kind of root veggie (I made the dish pictured in this post at the tail-end of summer with leeks, sungold tomatoes and summer squash—yum).

That's a protein and veggie prepped and cooked in about 15 minutes, leaving plenty of time to make a side dish or side salad, which can even be completed while the packets cook away in the oven. Roast another vegetable in the oven, put together a nice salad, or slice up some fruit for dessert. Either way, you can make a beautiful dinner come together in minutes, and best of all, it's easy to multiply for more than one (very impressive for company). When it's ready, just slide your packet onto a plate, cut a cross-shaped slit in the top and rip it open. Eat it right out of the parchment, where the juices and steam will have formed a delicious natural sauce. With all that free time and so few dishes to clean, you'll have to think of a reason not to make this dish, for yourself, or anyone else. 

Halibut En Papillote with Cherry Tomatoes, Zucchini and Leeks 

1 halibut fillet (about 6 oz)
8-10 small cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup zucchini or summer squash, halved and sliced
1 leek, washed, white and light green parts thinly sliced
extra virgin olive oil
black pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Toss tomatoes and zucchini in a bowl with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil to coat. Set aside.

2. Fold a 15-inch long sheet of parchment paper in half so there's a crease in the middle, then open it back up. Place the leeks in the center of the parchment near the crease. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper and place it on top of the leeks. Carefully pour the tomato/zucchini mixture over and around the halibut.

3. Fold the empty half of the parchment over the fish. Starting at one of the creased ends, make small overlapping folds until the parchment forms a half-moon shape and is sealed tight (see an illustrated guide from Martha Stewart here for guidance).

4. Place the parchment packet onto a baking tray and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until the parchment is puffed and fish is cooked through. Place the finished packet onto a plate and cut a cross-shaped slit into the center of the packet. Pull back the parchment and serve. Enjoy!


TIP: You can easily make this dish with winter-centric ingredients. Leeks, carrots and cabbage make a great combo, and so do bok choy, mushrooms and cauliflower with soy and a dash of sesame oil. And don't forget about citrus—not only is it in season in the winter, it's also seafood's best friend. And some lemon juice and lemon slices to salmon en papillote, or lemon juice, butter and black pepper to some gorgeous bay scallops for an elegant appetizer.

No comments: