Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Don't panic . . .

This looks much harder than it actually is. Honest. Although it is a bit more work than, say, opening a can of cream of mushroom soup and pouring it over some frozen tilapia fillets. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (Although, actually, there is. It's just wrong, on so many levels.)

I digress. What a surprise. 

But you will probably save this to serve for a dinner party, where you want to thrill and impress your guests. Or perhaps a valentines day or birthday dinner for a loved one.
I'm betting it is fairly unlikely you are going to come home from work and say, "I think I'll whip up a nice striped bass en papillote for my supper tonight." 

Although you totally should. You deserve it.

Striped Bass en Papillote 
6 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened 
1/2 pound fresh spinach, cleaned and roughly chopped 
2 cups sliced asparagus 
½ cup thick sliced crimini mushrooms 
4 (6-ounce) skinless fillets of wild striped bass 
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves 
4 springs fresh thyme 
2 medium shallots, very finely chopped (or ¼ cup fine chopped onion) 
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped 
1/4 cup dry white wine
Lemon wedges, to serve

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
Fold 4 large square sheets of parchment paper in half. 
Starting at the fold, cut out a large half heart shape. 

Open the paper flat on a surface with the point of the heart towards you. 
Butter the centers of each heart lightly with a teaspoon of the butter. 
Divide the vegetables into four piles. 
Place a pile onto each heart, centering it on 1 side of the heart, towards the crease. Season the fish well with salt and pepper and place a fillet on top of each pile of vegetables.
Place 1 teaspoon of butter on each fillet and sprinkle each with some of the parsley, thyme, shallots, and garlic. 
Drizzle a little white wine over each. 
Fold the paper over to cover the fish. Starting at the top of the heart, tightly fold over the edges, overlapping each time, all the way to the point, until it is sealed. Tuck under the last fold to keep it closed.
Butter the tops of the packets with the remaining butter. 
Place the packages onto a baking sheet and put them into the oven for 15 minutes. 

You can do this on a pan on the grill if you want, but the cooking time is tricky. 
To serve, put the papillotes onto plates and unfold them at the table. (Be careful of the hot steam.) Serve with lemon wedges. 

 When I first began cooking at the Allen House in 1982, serving striped bass in the restaurant was a big deal. The years of fishing guides pulling in boatloads of fifty, sixty, even seventy pounders were a mere fond memory, leaving only pictures on the restaurant walls of huge catches filling skiffs and lined up on the fish dock.

But in the 70's strict regulations had been put into place concerning the size and weight of a “keeper.” Commercial fishermen were not allowed to catch striped bass at all. Only sport fishermen with rod and reel were allowed to catch and keep bass. And a special license was needed to be able to buy,sell,or serve striped bass. 
this is an example of a bass that should not be served.

 We were considered very lucky, as we had three striped bass fisherman working out of the Allen House. Any catch that was the proper size and over the customer’s limit they were allowed to sell to us. I don’t remember the exact size limits at that time but I believe at one point nothing under 40 inches was considered a keeper. And that is one big fish, especially when you consider the bass is a wide bodied fish. 
george is the only one of our guides from that time still fishing

The fishermen were required to bring us the bass whole, just in case somebody needed to check and make sure the fish was the proper size and weight. Since we had to accept them whole, Steve decided to turn this into a merchandising gimmick. He’d place the whole fish on ice in the raw bar out by the dining room. Then the first person to order striped bass got to watch Steve go out and wrestle a huge fish out of the raw bar and carry it into the kitchen to be portioned. 

Because we had to fillet on the fly, usually in the middle of at least two other dinner orders, I quickly learned the best way to gut, fillet, skin and portion a fish so large it took up half the work space in our tiny kitchen. I also spent a lot of time after service was over cleaning scales out of odd places where they’d flown in the heat of battle. 

Our restaurant was, at that time, one of the few places where you could almost always be assured of being able to order striped bass, and over the years we became famous for it. even as the striped bass population slowly increased and the fish became easier to acquire and serve.
Duane and Tyler