Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tilapia en Papillote ala Arnaud's of New Orleans and another RANT

I am on a mission...


From grilled fish to broiled to fried, it is just too easy to take the safe route and make sure you are not eating raw fish.  It is also too easy to take a flavorful, moist, tender gift from Neptune and turn it into shoe leather.  Fish is SO much better when cooked right.

Cooking "en Papillote" is simply cooking in a parchment bag.  The juices collect on the bottom, and the food is steamed in the bag.  Adding moisture, and the technique gives you a wider margin of error between cooked and overcooked.  In this particular recipe, the fish rest on a bed of celery above the liquid.  This way, the steam adds a delicate flavor, without overpowering the natural taste of the fish.  But I am ahead of myself...

The recipe comes from ARNAUD's RESTAURANT COOKBOOK.  This is one of the most delightful cookbooks you can imagine.  Chock full of history and photos, this is such a beautiful tribute to a classic, original American restaurant.  Arnaud's is a favorite restaurant of mine.  I heartily recommend it to anyone visiting the city (and I heartily recommend you visit the city).  I wrote a post last year about one incredible night I enjoyed at Arnaud's.  Take a moment and reread that post and you will see why I love the place so much (click HERE).  If you go there, ask for Aaron!

The Arnaud's Cookbook is one of the three cookbooks I brought with me from home during my current temporary exile to the US Virgin Islands.  I thought I might be able to step up my Cajun/Creole cooking during my time here.  I have been so busy baking bread and drinking rum that this is the first recipe I have cooked from the book for months... must cook more Cajun/Creole... must...

So, with a few minor changes, here is what I did...

4 sheets of parchment, cut 6 inches by 15 inches

4 Tilapia fillets
2 TBS Butter
1/2 cup Green Onions
2 stalks Celery
2 tsp "not your Grandmother's HERBES de PROVENCE"
4 tsp Dry White Wine
Juice of 2 Lemons

My version of Herbes de Provence is a mixture of savory Mediterranean herbs.  I make a baggie of this mixture about once every couple of months.  It is very handy to be able to open a bag and have a nice mixture all ready to add to a dish.  Sure, you can follow a recipe exact, add a tsp of tarragon, with a couple tsp of Dill and a bit of Pepper... Or, you can add a couple tsp of "not your Grandmother's HERBES de PROVENCE" and have all the layers of flavor you need in one shake (and it is low salt).

I have printed it before, but here is my recipe for "not your Grandmother's HERBES de PROVENCE"...

No, it's not your grandmother's and it isn't the commercial mix of herbs either.

I use this almost anytime a recipe calls for a mixture of two or three herb spices.  It tastes great on a focaccia bread, add to oil and balsamic for a great bread dipping oil.  I add to fish and chicken for a light taste accent. It is just great to have sitting around... ready

5 TBS dried Tarragon
5 TBS dried Oregano
5 TBS dried Dill
5 TBS dried Thyme
5 TBS dried Rosemary
5 TBS dried Garlic Flakes
2 TBS Sea Salt
2 TBS Fresh ground Pepper
1 TBS dried Lemon Zest

Store in a sealed plastic ziplock bag, airtight in a dark drawer, and stays fresh for 6 months or more.   

OK, back to the recipe...

Cut the parchment.

Place several sliced matchstick sized celery pieces for a bed to rest the fillets.  Top with 1/2 tsp "not your Grandmother's HERBES de PROVENCE", and a TSP of sliced green onions.

Curl up the edges of the parchment, forming a small boat so when you add 1 tsp white wine, and you squeeze the juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon, the wet ingredients form a pool under the fish.

Fold over the parchment and crimp the edges together forming a bag to steam the fish.

Repeat for all 4 fillets...

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Place the bags on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow the bags to rest for 10 more minutes to evenly cook the fish before opening the bag.

I plated this with some of that BLT Savory Onion and Brie BREAD PUDDING with Caramelized Cherry Tomatoes.  The gentle flavor of the poached fish and the extra za za zing taste of the savory bread pudding made a terrific combination.

And, as expected, the fish was moist, tender delicate flavors of the wine and herbs shined through.  This was a great way to make fish... flake tender, and all the flavor.  Thank's Arnaud's, a great recipe, and a reminder of a great cooking technique!

OK, time to rant...

Long time readers know that I have a love affair with New Orleans.  With most of the country cookie cutter chain restaurant filled, New Orleans holds a rare, almost unique spot in the US as a regional cooking style, as well as a definition of regional and seasonal cooking.  They were green before being green was cool.

But,  more than an amazing tourist attraction, the Gulf of Mexico fishing industry (Mississippi, Texas coast, Florida and yes, Louisiana) provides a high percentage of our fresh fish and seafood.  It is near by, allowing net to table time to be short.  The advantages of gulf seafood can not be understated.

Nearly 1 million gallons of chemical disbursements have been added to the gulf ecosystem.  No long term studies have been done, but worse, no short term studies were done before dumping these chemicals.  Now, we are seeing exactly what this strategy is doing.  Instead of oil collecting above the water (a terrible tragedy, but an attackable terrible tragedy), we now have plums of oil 20 feet or more that is settling into the gulf.  Does BP Oil think that out of sight - out of mind will limit their liability?  Do we want to eat gulf lobsters, gulf oysters, gulf shrimp that have lived in oil coated seabeds?  Do we want to eat the fresh fish that has swam through the these oil plums?  Lived in these oil plums?  Do you want to feed this seafood to your children?  Do you want the schools to feed your children this seafood?  If you are pregnant or want to become pregnant, will this enter your mind next time you have that fillet-o-fish???  What is happening in the Gulf right now will have an effect on Seattle and El Paso and Bangor and everyplace in between for decades.  This is a national issue.

Why is no one publicly asking these questions.

And when I say no one, I mean Congress and President Obama.

This is no longer a private enterprise problem.  I do not trust BP to do the right thing.

This is no longer a state's rights problem.  The problem is in the Gulf of Mexico, multiple states are directly impacted, but also the food supply for the entire country is going to be impacted.  Expecting an individual state to muster the man power and knowhow needed to CORRECTLY fix this problem is beyond the scope of a single state.

This is a Federal problem.  This is why we have a central government to look out for the concerns beyond a single state's borders.  Every year we watch the President address Congress for the State of the Union speech.  Every year we listen to the president (Republican or Democrat) proclaim, "The state of our union is strong".  Every time that statement is made, Congress leaps to their feet so that the cameras can show the applause.  

If the US Army Corps of Engineers can not stop the leak, we need to re-think the state of our Union.

If the US Coast Guard and the US Navy can not deal with the oil on top of the water, we need to re-think the state of the Union.

If the President of the US choses to attend a fund raiser for an election to be held months from now (President Obama was in San Francisco last night), instead of dealing with this problem with all the power and  influence of the office, we need to re-think the state of the Union.

And if the President and the Congress can act in a bi-partisan way to create an emergency bailout of the nation's banking system (a bailout needed because of the actions of that same system); but relies on the good graces of BP Oil to "make it right" with the individuals and family businesses that have had their life and plans forever changed through no fault of their own... Well, if Congress and the President can publicly cripple the finances of the country in order to save a flawed private enterprise banking system, they can work harder to rescue the Gulf of Mexico from the short sighted flaws of YOUR government oversight system.

Real lives are being impacted.  A centuries old way of life is being impacted.  The future of our food supply is being impacted and we are allowing BP Oil to experiment with a fragile eco-system.

Mr. President and members of Congress, do the job you were elected to do.  Do the job you talk about and make sure that the state of our Union is strong.  The Army corp of Engineers should be actively involved.  The National Guard should be in the states, guarding our National interests, working on clean-up, not in a foreign country fighting an undeclared war.

God bless the people living on the gulf shore, God bless the people with business related to the health of the Gulf of Mexico, God Bless the economies of the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, God bless the people who eat the bounty that comes from the Gulf and God bless the next generation of people who will be impacted by the actions (or inactions) of our elected officials...

And God bless President Obama and the Congress of the United States...  God is watching what you do, and so should we all.


  1. Amen to the rant.

    Yum to the fish.

  2. I'm making this fish this week. Thanks for sending it over. Almost everytime I try to make fish, it's not right. I'm sickened over this whole oil spill. Extremely upsetting. As a lover of New Orleans, and an avid birdwatcher, I can't even stand to think what all of this is doing to our coastal wildlife sanctuaries. We all stand by so helpless.

  3. Ohh ohh ohh... I can actually make your recipe! I was going to have Halibut tonight! I"m gonna try it...

    And on to your "rant"... I agree with you... but look what happens to a State when they try and fix the problem on their own... The Feds try and turn their back. I'm referring to Arizona's little problem. The Feds just don't move quick enough and when they do... its a washed out version to fix the problem in a feeble attempt to please everyone. Which doesn't necessarily get the job done.I think the State needs to man up, strongly supported by its people.

    Thanks for letting me stand on your soap box Dave.


  4. You are so right Dave. The blatant disregard that this country has for the chemicals that go into ALL of our food...from cows to fish to pork...everything is absolutely ridiculous. And people wonder why chronic illness is running rampant. Sheesh.

    En papillote is the way to go. hands down. Always. Good stuff.

  5. Very well said....I agree with every point you have made. God bless this country and watch out for her because the government is not.