Although I grew up eating fish from our lake and the nearby ocean, my own real love of the sea’s bounty began at the end of thirteen years as a vegetarian. I was living with a house full of people on a farm in the western Massachusetts hills. One of my housemates was dating a fisherman from Martha’s Vineyard. Tom was a salty New England iconoclast with a true passion for the sea and the fish, about whom he spoke in the tender tones usually reserved for children or pets. I rarely recall seeing him without his red union suit (that’s long underwear for the uninitiated) — he said he took it off every year on Memorial Day and put it back on come Labor Day. Every weekend Tom would rattle up the driveway in his tiny rusted hatchback, complaining vigorously about the tourists on the ferry. He’d haul out his battered orange cooler and proceed to prepare the delights within — fresh out of the ocean earlier that day. It could be lobster or cod, halibut or scallops or tuna …. or oysters which we consumed in enormous numbers — dipped in flour and fried in butter in a cast iron pan. Tom would slap a huge fish down on our scarred wooden counter and fillet it in a flash. He’d open oysters with a flick of his wrist. It was at this point that it began to dawn on me that the carrots growing in our garden and the oysters growing at the bottom of the ocean both possessed consciousness; in fact, everything did. And eating plastic packaged veggie burgers shipped all the way from California with massive amounts of fossil fuels involved, instead of Tom’s oysters direct from the Atlantic, did not make a whole lot of sense.
Once I had the first taste of Tom’s fish, I was hooked, so to speak. But preparing it myself was a bit intimidating at first. I knew that overcooked fish was both a no-no and extremely easy to do. For myself I often just plopped it in a pan and fried the crap out of it as we had done with the sunfish and bass we caught as kids. I didn’t care if it was dry. But If I were serving it to others, I needed a better way. I’m not sure how I hit upon dousing it in white wine, but it sure does work well, absolutely preventing the possibility of dried out fish — and it tastes delicious and kind of fancy. This is a super easy dish that looks beautiful dressed up with fresh summer herbs — right now I’m using a combination of lavender (yes, a bit odd!) and rosemary that I can find on the Portland streets. Purple blossomed chives are also particularly lovely if you have them around.
Perfect Summer (or Anytime!) Fish: (this is for two fillets — the recipe is easy to double — or triple! Just get a bigger pan…)
- 2 fillets of white fish (roughly a pound)
- 1 cup white wine
- few tablespoons olive oil or butter
- a handful of chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, dill, thyme, basil, chives, etc.) — or — a few teaspoons dried herbs
- one lemon
- 4-6 cloves garlic, finely minced (I often have a jar of pre-minced garlic on hand, which makes this super fast.)
- few tablespoons capers
- salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the fillets, and pat them dry. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a nine-inch square pyrex pan by generously coating it with olive oil — use a few tablespoons. Rub the fish on the pan to coat, and then flip over. Spread the minced garlic over the fish. Scatter the herbs and capers. Slice the lemon thinly, and lay slices on top. Drizzle the top with a bit more olive oil; add a dash of pepper and salt, and pop in the oven. Turn the oven down to 350, and bake for about 15 minutes. Check the fish to see if it’s cooked through and flaky. If not, bake another 5 min.
I use the delicious herbed, ocean-tasting wine after cooking for steaming spinach or swiss chard to accompany the fish. Just pour a bit in the bottom of a wok or pot, throw in the greens, cover and steam for a minute or two — just til wilted and bright green! You can also spoon the liquid over rice or quinoa on the side … delectable! If you’re in the mood for more fish, check out the charming new cookbook, Dig a Clam, Shuck an Oyster, Shake a Crab: Fish and Seafood recipes from the Pacific Northwest by John Nelson. The recipes are great, and the stories of growing up in a fishing family on the Oregon coast are wonderful. I love this book!