Alfred Portale Simple Pleasures: Home Cooking from the Gotham Bar and Grill's Acclaimed Chef, by Alfred Portale (Morrow, 2005)

2005_02_food_portale.JPGGotham has always been one of our favorite restaurants to have other people take us to for lunch at the bar, or to take dates to for a glass of wine after a movie at Cinema Village. Despite the aversion that some people have to tall food, we have always enjoyed every experience we've had at Gotham, culinary and otherwise. We're equally pleased with this, Alfred Portale's third cookbook. It meets all of our requirements: the book is easy to use, the pictures are food-porn quality, and the recipes are well-explained and approachable. Portale gets extra credit for suggesting parings (so we don't have to fish around for ideas of what goes with what), variations (so once we master one recipe we can make it a few different ways), and "flavor building" ideas (a bit of honey here, a bit of tarragon there), which, as Emeril would say, kick the recipes up a notch, with little effort.

2005_02_food_papillote1.jpgWe decided to make these fish fillets, steamed with soy, ginger, and vegetables in foil packets, on a busy day. We made the packets at home in the afternoon, using aluminum foil, and dropped them off in our friend's refrigerator before an evening meeting. We premixed the liquid ingredients and put the mixture to the side so that the acids in the lemon and ginger juices wouldn't cook the fish in the meantime. After the meeting, we added the liquid, popped the packets in the oven and cracked open an Asahi. While the packets cooked, we made sauteed broccoli to serve with the fish. Overall, the entire meal took about a half hour to make.

We seem to remember fish en papillote being cooked on the grill on Food Network. Have you had any luck with that? We are also curious about using Press N' Seal Wrap instead of foil or parchment-have you tried it?

Asian Striped Bass En Papillote
Serves 4

Ingredients

8 scallions, white part thinly sliced crosswise, green tops reserved
12 cilantro sprigs, leaves removed and chopped, stems reserved
4 striped bass fillets (7 ounces each)
Coarse salt
Freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ginger juice
3 tablespoons light sesame oil or walnut oil
1/4 cup soy sauce

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Prepare four 10-inch squares of parchment paper or aluminum foil, and fold each in half in the center
of each piece, make a bed of scallion tops and cilantro stems.

Season the fish fillets on both sides with salt and pepper, and place 1 fillet on top of each herb bed.
Scatter the lemon zest over the fish, and top each fillet with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
Feel free to refrigerate the packets at this point until ready to use (the same day).

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, ginger juice, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Spoon the mixture over the fish. Fold the squares in half diagonally and seal all the edges by crimping them together. Put the packets on a cookie sheet.

Put the sheet in the oven and bake until the packets puff slightly, 8 minutes for thinner fillets, 10 minutes for thicker. Remove the packets from the oven.

To serve, cut open each papillote, being careful not to spill any liquids and avoiding the hot steam that
may escape as you open it. Use a slotted spatula to transfer 1 fillet to each of four warmed dinner plates, leaving the herbs behind. Pour the cooking liquid from the packets into a bowl, and spoon some over and around the fish on each plate. Scatter the chopped cilantro and sliced scallions over the fish, and serve immediately.

Pairing

This goes well with a bunch of spinach, broccoli, or bok choy sauteed with 2 T grapeseed or walnut oil, 1T minced garlic, and 1-1/2 T ginger. Add 1 T sesame oil, salt, and pepper at the end.

Variation

The striped bass can be replaced with flounder, cod, or halibut.

Flavor Building

Add some thinly sliced fresh chiles to the beds of scallion and cilantro, or drizzle them with chili oil instead of sesame oil for a spicier dish. Or season the fish with Chinese five-spice powder and add thinly sliced garlic and/or lemongrass to the beds of vegetables.