In my late teens, I spent a few summers on a beautiful rocky island off the coast of New England, waiting tables at night and lounging on the beach by day. I was part of a crew of young restaurant rats – waiters, maids, dishwashers and cooks who migrated to the island every season. Each one of us was seduced by the promise of a summer spent hiking, biking, and swimming in the ice-cold Atlantic, subsidized by the summer people for whom we worked our tushies off in exchange for cash tips.
You were considered lucky if you landed a job in one of the old hotels because that meant you had an inexpensive place to live for the season. The large Victorian houses would often offer the whole top floor – former servants’ quarters – for employees to room dormitory-style.
It sounds quaint, but in reality it was more John Belushi than E.M. Forster – think post-adolescent boys, keg parties and shared bathrooms.
The real perk of the job turned out to be the surfeit of pristinely fresh seafood: mussels, clams, swordfish and bluefish just pulled from the surrounding sea. On our nights off, since we didn’t have kitchens, we’d fire up a little hibachi grill and get dinner ready. We’d wrap whatever fresh fish was available in foil, throw in a little seasoning and place the packet on the grill. Minutes later, we’d have a meal we could eat straight out of the foil, maybe with some grilled island corn on the side.
The beauty of this method lies not only in how easy and quick it is put dinner on the table, but that you use little or no fat. The fish cooks in its own juices and is enhanced by whatever herbs, aromatics and thinly sliced vegetables you include.
I used Asian flavors like sesame, chili and scallions in this recipe, but you could use sliced cherry tomatoes, basil and minced garlic to go Mediterranean-style, or use carrot, leeks and parsley for a more simple French flavor. Just remember to cut the vegetables into small, thin pieces – the cooking time is quick.
1 skinless fish fillet, such as cod, salmon or halibut (about 1 pound)
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons gomasio *
Pinch of dried chili flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Lay an 11 x 14-inch piece of parchment over a large sheet of aluminum foil. (The foil helps keep any juices from leaking out of the package)
Arrange fish in the middle of the parchment; sprinkle with onions, ginger, sesame oil, gomasio, chili flakes, salt and pepper.
Gather the two long edges of the foil together and fold down over the fish to make a neat package, tucking the short ends together over the top.
Place the packet on a large baking sheet and bake 15 – 20 minutes. The fish will be opaque and flaky when done.
* a blend of sesame seeds, salt and seaweed available in the natural or international section of well-stocked grocery or natural foods stores; substitute plain toasted sesame seeds if you can’t find it.