Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Foto: Foil Packet Blackfish

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. It transports me to another time and place; brings back fond memories of experiences of long ago. That's not to say I dwell in the past. But through nostalgia the past does inform my present. And few things invoke as much nostalgia as recipes.

Today's recipe is a dose of nostalgia wrapped in a bit of extra nostalgia, with a nostalgia cherry on top. It marries three experiences of my childhood, and kicks them soundly into the modern day. Not that that was my intention. It was purely accidental.

Ever since we moved to New York's Hudson Valley from Colorado six-plus months ago, we've been taking full advantage of our proximity to the ocean and the bounty of fresh seafood it offers. More and more, we find ourselves spending time on the New Paltz side of the river, where I introduced Kelli to rock climbing when we first started dating more than 8 years ago. Each time we made the short drive, my eyes kept getting drawn to Gadaleto's, a fresh seafood market. We kept saying we were going to stop in and check the place out, but for one reason or another, we kept postponing. Finally, last Sunday was the day.

From the moment I walked through the front door, I was reminded of some of the seafood markets I knew growing up on Long Island, NY (Nostalgia 1.0). These were the kind of places where the fish was local, wild, and super fresh, and the types of fish they offered were whatever had just come off the boats. As we browsed Gadaleto's offerings, I was almost instantly drawn to the blackfish.

The vast majority of blackfish is caught by recreational fisherman. As a result, it's extremely rare to find it for sale in a seafood market. I couldn't resist the opportunity. In fact, the last blackfish I ate was some I caught myself more than 15 years ago (Nostalgia 2.0).

I used to go fishing with my Uncle Joe. In the fall - maybe October, or early November - after most folks had taken their boats out of the water following Labor Day, and after the weather had turned colder, we'd head out in his boat for blackfish. He had a few choice spots in the waters in and around the Great South Bay, a body of water that separates the narrow barrier beaches of the Atlantic-facing south shore of Long Island from the island's "mainland." Using green crabs for bait, we'd drop our lines to the bottom of the bay and wait for the unmistakeable strikes of the blackfish.

When it came time to decide how to prepare our Gadaleto's blackfish, one idea came instantly to mind. Much of the time during my childhood, the fish and crabs and clams we'd catch would be taken home, where we'd do the gutting, the cleaning, the prep, the cooking, the eating. But there were times when we'd eat our fresh catch right on the beach. Uncle Joe would make a large tin foil packet, put the cleaned whole fish inside, add some seawater (literally), maybe a few cloves of garlic, some slices of lemon, and perhaps a pat of butter or touch of olive oil, and cook it over an open fire. Then we'd open up the foil packet, peel the fish's skin back, and use forks to eat the moist, tender meat right off the bone. Also known as Nostalgia 3.0.

I made a foil packet for our blackfish (a filet, rather than the whole fish, in this case), made a saltwater solution that emulated the saltiness of seawater, added some garlic cloves, slices of lemon, and for good measure, a touch of both butter and olive oil. I roasted it in the oven, and roughly 30 minutes later, those first bites of moist, tender blackfish had me in nostalgia overdrive. Just ask Kelli, who patiently listened to me relate the stories I describe above in exacting detail as we ate the fish.

I can't promise this recipe will mean quite the same thing to you that it does to me (nostalgia, after all, is hard to transfer from one person to another), but I can promise that it's delicious. And you don't need blackfish to give it a try. This method of cooking - somewhere halfway between poaching and steaming the fish - would work well for many varieties.

Foil Packet Blackfish
Makes 3 servings

1 lb blackfish filet
1 lemon, sliced
3 large garlic cloves, halved
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 c water with 1 tbsp salt dissolved

1. Preheat your oven to 475 deg F.
2. Rinse and pat dry the fish.
3. Place the fish into the center of a large piece of foil. (If using heavy duty foil, one layer will do. If using regular foil, a double layer is better to make sure it doesn't break.)
4. Roll up the ends of the foil, so that the foil will hold the liquid.
5. Add the remaining ingredients, spreading out the lemon and garlic throughout the packet.
6. Bring together the open-topped sides of the packet, and loosely pinch them together in a few places. (Leave some spaces for steam to escape...)
7. If concerned about potential liquid leaks, place the whole foil packet into a large baking pan or tray.
8. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the fish is opaque throughout and flakes easily with a fork.


This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, shellfish-free, refined-sugar-free.

- Pete

P.S. In the interest of bloggerly love, we've also posted this recipe over at Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free's Slightly Indulgent Tuesday post.


Kristi Weber said...

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve foil pouch cooking, but I cannot recommend it as a healthy alternative. Aluminum is implicated in Alzheimer's and other dementia diseases. Love that you're fixing fresh fish, tho!

My blog:

peterbronski said...

Hi Kristi... Thanks for your comment! According to the Alzheimer's Society, the link between aluminum and Alzheimer's is circumstantial only, and not causal. They note that "as evidence for other causes [of Alzheimer's] continues to grow, a possible link with aluminum seems increasingly unlikely." See

Cheers, Pete

peterbronski said...

I should also add that if you still have lingering concerns, cooking with aluminum foil is not something we do frequently. It's an occasional technique that works very well! =)

Cheers, Pete

Kristi Weber said...

Thanks, Pete. I'm glad you only use aluminum foil occasionally. The jury is still out on the effects of using products that leach into food during the cooking process. I'll stick to cooking with products that do not leach into my food. That's why I'm totally sold on Kosher Demarle bake ware.

peterbronski said...

Hi Kristi... Thanks for your follow-up comment. If you're going to promote a particular company's product in a comment on this blog, please disclose that you're a representative of that company:

Thank you, Pete

Kristi Weber said...

I really didn't mean to hi-jack your blog to put in a plug for my company's product. I wanted to promote a concept. But, yes, I did become a rep for this company because of the health benefits it offers.

peterbronski said...

Hi Kristi... I appreciate your reply.

I can certainly see the point of view of your underlying sentiment - concern about compounds leaching into food, and taking a 'precautionary principle' approach when you feel like the evidence doesn't come out clearly one way or the other. (Or avoiding the leaching altogether, if you feel like the evidence is definitive...) To a degree I share the perspective.

Re: Demarle. I wasn't necessarily suggesting you tried to hijack the blog. More simply, transparency is very important to me (my background is as a journalist), and though it sounds like it was unintentional, the tone of your earlier comment struck me as a covert product plug.

But as far as I'm concerned, the issue is put to rest. We're happy to have you at No Gluten, No Problem, and look forward to you contributing your perspective in future blog posts!

All best, Pete

theMom said...

I love nostalgia. Thanks for sharing. I've lived in the Puget sound are of WA, the small farm, rolling hills of Wisconsin, and now the big open spaces of Northern MN. But I love hearing stories about other parts of our great country.

gfe--gluten free easily said...

Great post, Pete! I am all about a good story/nostalgia and fish. Love fish! I'm not familiar with blackfish at all, but this does look good.

A suggestion regarding aluminum concerns ... I've read that some line the aluminum with parchment paper so the fish is not touching the aluminum. That seems like an easy solution to me. :-) I can't say that I really trust all the studies that say things are circumstantial and unlikely. Call me cynical, but we've been told that about a lot of things, including that folks who don't have celiac can eat gluten safely without damage. I think the tide is changing on that latter topic, but it's food for thought.


peterbronski said...

Hi Mary... I agree. Regional stories are great! I'm sure you have some good ones of your own...

Cheers, Pete

peterbronski said...

Hi Shirley... If you ever have a chance to get your hands on some good, fresh blackfish, you must try it!

Thanks for the suggestion about lining the aluminum foil with parchment paper first. I've seen that technique used before among professional chefs. It seems like a simple, easy and effective way to go! Good idea.

I'm certainly a strong believer in the precautionary principle. It's especially important when the stakes are high. The potential of neurotoxicity and dementia is certainly no laughing matter. But I'm also personally wary of claims that are either prematurely or unfoundedly alarmist.

As definitive as we think science is, it's a tricky thing to navigate. As you rightly point out, there have been times when we've been told something is safe, but that has turned out not to be the case. But I'm also reminded of many times when the opposite has also been true. Margarine was supposed to be better for us than real butter (not so much). Formula was supposed to be better for babies than breastmilk (nope). Fat in the diet was evil (the scientific consensus is rapidly changing on that one).

Then there's the case when something can be either good or bad for you, depending on your level of consumption. (Red wine comes immediately to mind...)

Ultimately, of course, we all need to evaluate the best available info for ourselves, and make decisions we're personally happy with.

Thanks, as always, for your insights!

Cheers, Pete