Friday, May 15, 2009

Fish in a Packet: A Guilt-Free Delight

My husband Noah used to be able to eat like a lumberjack- think Paul Bunyan-sized portions- without gaining an ounce. He comes from a long line of lean and lanky folk. But in the couple of years since we turned thirty, he's begun to develop the tiniest of pooches, which he lovingly refers to as his heli belly (he's a helicopter pilot).

Personally, I think it's adorable, but Noah has taken notice, and is more on board than ever in my quest for healthy recipes that are big on flavor.

My metabolism slowed down a lot earlier than Noah's did, and I do not share the same genealogical tendencies. The only skinny genes in my family, are hanging in the backs of our closets. On my family tree, we pretty much all have to approach diet and exercise with diligence.

I do pretty good most of the time, but hey, I love to eat. And I'm not going to deny myself certain pleasures (like creme brulee) in this lifetime because I'm worried about my pant size. So I moderate as best I can, and search endlessly for dishes that satisfy both the weight watcher and the gourmand in me . When I find a recipe and/or cooking method that does both, it gets added to my home cooking repertoire. This is the way Noah and I like to eat at home.

Click here to see the recipe for Chef John Ash's Wild Alaska Seafood Hobo Packs. This recipe, in which you steam fish with aromatics and vegetables in a foil packet, was quick, easy, and full of flavor, without a bunch of added fat. Noah and I made these using some wild Alaskan Cod but I think pretty much any kind of fish would agree with this flavoring. The fish was delicate and super juicy.


  • I recommend oven-crisping some crusty bread to serve with the hobo packs, as the abundant juice they contain serves as a nice "liquor" for dipping bread into.

  • Rice pilaf would also make a nice juice-absorbing accompaniment.

  • If you cook them in the oven, put the foil packs on a rimmed baking sheet in case of leakage.

  • This recipe calls for sprigs of thyme. I recommend interpreting "sprig" as a singular stem, rather than a full branch. The right amount of thyme adds a light herbaceous aroma. Too much thyme imparts a bitter pine-pitch sort of flavor.

Once you get a feel for this method of cooking fish, there are endless ways to play with the accoutrements. Noah and I like to cook salmon this way with fresh fennel, sweet onion, tomato, and capers. I also like to do Asian-style hobo packs, with rice wine, soy, garlic, ginger, and green onion, and serve on a bed of rice and wilted spinach.

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