Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Preserved Lemons #3 - Haddock En Papillote

I was pondering how to use my preserved lemons to make a fish dish, and I happened to watch an episode of "Top Chef: Masters", which just wrapped up, where one of the cheftestants was inspired by the concept of "Mystery" to make a fish dish en papillote, which means it was baked in paper (usually parchment, but sometimes aluminum foil or paper bags) with some other goodies. This put the idea into my head of using my preserved lemons in an "en papillote" dish of my own.

I went to the grocery store and looked through the selection of frozen fish. I settled on a pair of large frozen haddock loins, for no particular reason other than they weren't particularly expensive (as opposed to my first choice, halibut, which WAS), and it was a nice, firm fish, and relatively healthy.

To go in the paper package with the fish, I bought a box of couscous, a can of chickpeas, some scallions and some mushrooms. I had some fish stock at home I wanted to use, along with the lemons and the olives from my first attempt at using preserved lemons.

So, the day before I made this, I placed the frozen haddock loins in my refrigerator to thaw. The next day, I prepared the couscous by emptying the box of couscous into a bowl, along with the drained can of chickpeas. I brought two cups of fish stock, some turmeric for color, a generous pinch of cinnamon, and a generous pat of butter to a boil, and poured it over the couscous and chickpeas, and let them sit.

(Note: None of the measurements in this are very precise; it's a very flexible, forgiving recipe)

Meanwhile, I preheated my oven to 400 degrees. Then I diced the bunch of green onions (8 of them), and thinly sliced about 1 cup of fresh mushrooms. I also minced about 1/4 cup of green olives and I took out 4 preserved lemon quarters, which got their pulp and pith removed. These were finely sliced into thin strips and set aside. Finally, I took out the two thawed haddock loins and cut them in half cross-wise.

Now that the prep work was done, it was time to do the assembly. I took out my roll of parchment paper, and cut 4 large squares from it (side note: parchment paper is easy to find at any supermarket; it's in the same section as the aluminum foil, although you may prefer using foil). I laid one piece of paper on a dinner plate, and put 1/4 of the couscous and chickpeas onto it. Then I sprinkled over 1/4 each of the green onions, olives, and mushrooms. On top of that, I laid one piece of the haddock loin and then carefully laid out one bunch of the sliced lemon peel over that, and salted and peppered the mixture. Finally, since I was feeling a bit fancy, I finished it off by pouring a generous splash of white wine over everything. Then I took the four corners of the paper and brought them to the center over the fish, and bound them together by wrapping some twine around the bunched paper and tying it off. Into the oven they went, for 20 minutes - the bag the haddock came in said 15, but I wanted to be sure. And...

Everything came out nice and neat and perfectly done. The flavors all melded together nicely, and the parchment paper held up to cooking just fine - no drips, tears or leakage making a mess in my baking dish. The fish was flaky and delicious, and tasted faintly of the lemon peel. The couscous had absorbed all of the flavors in the parcel - the onion,mushroom, fish and lemon were all detectable and it was delicious. A definite cook-again, although next time I'm going to use bigger fish fillets or maybe try it with some large shrimp or even mix some bay scallops into the couscous with the lemon and make a sort of miniature fish casserole.

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