We’re coming into Arizona’s long, hot summer. Every day, by about 11 a.m., the living room and my desk area are at 82 degrees, even with the AC on. I’m too stubborn — and too cheap — to drop the temperature further on my AC, so by dinnertime, it’s been hot in the house for hours.
The last thing I want to do is heat it up even further with a long cooking stint in the kitchen.
Lately, I’ve been eating a lot of fish, and baking it in parchment pockets (en papillote) is a fast, easy way to do so. After a quick oven preheat, the fish is ready in just 10 to 15 minutes.
While I usually put whatever vegetable I want with the fish into the packets with the fillets or steaks, sometimes I want to do something different.
Fennel has an affinity for fish, so when I saw an especially beautiful bulb, I decided to serve the fish atop a fresh, uncooked fennel salad. I knew its mild anise-y flavor would be welcome, but if you hate it, you can soak the sliced fennel for a bit in cold water. Drain it well before building the salad, though. Other cooling vegetables and herbs could also go into the salad.
There’s a reason we say “cool as a cucumber” — crisp yet watery, cucumber feels refreshing to eat. Mint is the herb I turn to most when I want a cooling effect. Thinly sliced sweet red onion isn’t as fierce as white or yellow onion — and it happened to be on hand.
The result was this delicious dish of contrasts: The hot, fragrant fish atop the cool salad, equally fragrant, was just the ticket on a still-scorching evening.
Fish baked in
Makes 4 servings
You can halve or double this recipe easily. If you’re preparing more than four servings, you’ll definitely want to double the fennel salad part of the recipe. The best way to thinly slice the mint is to stack a few leaves at a time, roll them into a tube and thinly slice across the tube from one end to the other.
For the salad:
1 bulb fresh fennel, fronds cut off and set aside
1 baseball-sized red onion
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh mint
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon, about 2 tablespoons
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds, optional
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the fish:
4 sheets parchment paper or aluminum foil squares
2 tablespoons butter
4 (six-ounce) boneless, skin-on or skinless halibut, sole, cod or tilapia filets or steaks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 lemon, thinly sliced
For the salad:
Using a mandoline, food processor or very sharp knife, cut the fennel bulb crosswise into thin slices. Cut the red onion the same way, and thinly slice the cucumber. Place the vegetables into a medium-sized bowl and toss to combine. Add the mint and toss again.
Prepare the dressing by combining the olive oil, lemon juice, fennel seeds, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until the mixture emulsifies. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Refrigerate until serving time.
For the fish:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Fold the parchment sheets in half and cut into a big heart shape. You don’t have to do this with foil.
Butter the parchment or foil.
Place the fish in the center of one side of the heart, repeating for all four fish cuts. Drizzle the fish with the olive oil, then season the fish with salt and pepper. Lay a few fennel fronds atop each piece of fish, then lay a few lemon slices on each piece. Place a garlic clove alongside the fish.
Fold the parchment to cover the fish and crimp the edges tightly, securing with a toothpick or paper clip if necessary. Repeat for all the fish. If using foil, fold the foil to cover the fish, crimping the edges tightly.
Place the fish packets on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake thin fillets like halibut or sole for 10 minutes and thicker pieces like salmon or cod for 15 minutes. The parchment paper envelopes may puff up and will begin to brown.
When the fish is done, remove from the oven. Cut open the packets, being careful of escaping steam.
To serve, divide the fennel salad between four plates. Remove the fennel fronds and lemon slices from the fish and place a portion of fish atop the fennel salad on the plates. Garnish with fresh fennel fronds and lemon slices, if desired.
Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist and the author of “The Feast Nearby.” Follow her blog as she writes her third book, “The Feast of the Dove,” at thefeastofthedove.com.