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Chinese Fish Parcels

(recipe, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall & Nick Fisher)


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Introduction

This was the first dish ever to be cooked at the original River Cottage HQ, served outdoors in the February cold as work began transforming the shabby old farm buildings into a kitchen, dining room, and teaching space. We'd had a bumper catch of sea bass a couple of days before. As the light started to fail, we wrapped the fish up with lots of aromatic ingredients and cooked them in a split oil drum over glowing embers. We ate the steaming fish straight from the parcels as we huddled around the fire. We've cooked this dish countless times since and it remains a great favorite.

Ingredients

  1. 1 large (3½ to 4½ pounds) or 2 small (1½ to 2¼ pounds) black sea bass, scaled and filleted (see Note)
  2. 4 large carrots
  3. 2 large leeks, trimmed and very thinly sliced
  4. 1 large knob of ginger, very thinly sliced
  5. 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  6. 2 medium-hot chiles, seeded and thinly sliced
  7. 4 Tbsp. soy sauce
  8. 2 Tbsp. Asian sesame oil

Steps

  1. Lay the bass fillets, skin side down, on a board. Run your finger down the center of each one, from head end to tail end, and use tweezers to remove any pin bones you find. Slice each fillet in half, or in quarters if you've got one really large fish. You need 8 equal portions.
  2. Peel the carrots and cut them into matchstick-sized pieces. A mandoline is very useful for this, if you have one. Otherwise, you'll need a good sharp knife.
  3. Tear off a large sheet of foil and place a rough eighth of the carrot in the center. Pile an eighth of the sliced leek on top, then some of the sliced garlic, ginger, and chile. Splash with soy sauce to taste, then a little sesame oil. Put a piece of fish, skin side down, on the pile. Add another layer of carrot, then leek, then garlic, ginger, and chile, then another piece of chile, then another piece of fish, skin side up. Finish off with a little more soy and sesame oil. Bring up the edges of the foil to envelop the ingredients and fold or twist the edges to seal the parcel tightly.
  4. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make 4 parcels. Place the parcels on a large baking sheet and put in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the fish, until the flesh is opaque all the way through. It's important the oven is very hot. This ensures that all the juices from the fish, along with the soy and sesame oil, produce lots of fragrant steam to cook and flavor the vegetables.
  5. Eat the fish straight from the parcels, or transfer to plates and serve with noodles or plain steamed rice.

Note

Culinate editor's note: For black sea bass, we substituted salmon, a fish more easily procured here in the Pacific Northwest. Authors Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher note that this dish works well with the following fish: black bream, sea trout, salmon (organic farmed or self-caught wild), mackerel, brill, gurnard, grey mullet, and carp.