Banded morwong en papillote
I don’t think I’d be able to count the number of fish I’ve cooked in my life. But no matter how many, I still really enjoy it. And even though cooking fish in a bag is arguably the most simple and commonly practised method, it does deliver the hits.
When cooking fish, be it whole or in fillets, there are three major steps that will affect the outcome: dispatch, cleaning and storage.
The dispatch of the fish may be out of your control, but I implore everyone to look for some vital clues as to what has occurred before you turn up to purchase it. Ask questions and look for spike marks in the head to indicate the fish was ethically handled.
For cleaning, I strongly recommend dry handling – that is, not using running water (especially not fresh water). The trick with this is to dampen a cloth in, ideally, seawater and use this to wipe away the scales and blood.
Last but equally important is storage. Fish does not respond well to plastic, so avoid any plastic wraps, especially directly onto the flesh. I recommend using a damp paper cloth, then wax paper, as this allows a small amount of oxygen to stop decomposition.
All of these processes do add time to the preparation, but once the techniques are practised they will become increasingly simple, and the results will speak for themselves.
Banded morwong en papillote
– 1 knob ginger
– 1 clove garlic
– 1 head fennel
– 1 lemon
– 1 medium-sized morwong (or other inshore species)
– 100ml olive oil
– salt and pepper
Heat your oven to 190ºC.
Slice the ginger, garlic, fennel and lemon. Using the side of a heavy knife or a rolling pin give those aromatics a firm hit to break the cell structure a little.
Prepare the fish by removing the scales, guts and gills. Trim the fins and give it a gentle wash (in seawater, if possible) then dab it dry with paper towel or cloth. Score the flesh at three-centimetre intervals across the fish on both sides and place on a sheet of greaseproof paper cut to the same size as the fish.
Lay two sheets of the light parchment paper on a bench then transfer the fish and greaseproof paper to the parchment. Stuff the fish with the aromatics and place some underneath it to protect it from the heat of the tray, then drizzle the fish with half of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Draw the edges of the paper up as though making a pastie or a dumpling and crimp together or scrunch to form a seal.
Place on a heavy tray and cook in the oven for 20 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. The fish in this recipe was 700g and took 16 minutes to cook, but the results will vary wildly according to size and species. My general rule with cooking fish on the bone is to take it a little further, so as to get heat into the centre, which warms the collagen and connective tissue.
Once cooked, reveal the fish at the table, then finish with the rest of the olive oil and more seasoning.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 29, 2019 as "Fishy business". Subscribe here.