ABSOLUTELY BRILL-IANT Baking fish is quick, easy and mess-free.
Baking fresh fish is a great alternative to the filet and fry method
It was a Tuesday evening and an exciting dinner wasn’t on the cards. That was until Redmond came home with an unexpected treat - a whole, large fish, a brill he’d got from his fisherman friend Gerry Hassett of The Chalet Restaurant in Achill. Brill indeed, I thought, wondering how best to cook it.
Filet it and fry it, suggested Redmond. Definitely not, I thought, we’ll bake it. It was very annoying for Redmond – he had to run some errands, which meant the fish was mine!
We gave Gerry a ring to ask if he had any suggestions. In his restaurant, he said, he’d be inclined to stuff and roast a fish like that. Stuff it with what? Maybe crab or prawn or both, whatever was to hand? How delicious.
We didn’t have any other seafood so I had a rummage for what else might work for a light spring dish.
A fine kettle of fish
Baking fish is quick, easy and mess-free when you do it French-style, en pappillote, or in paper. You simply parcel up your fish in baking parchment and it cooks in the oven in its own steam and is infused with whatever else you bake inside. This can be super simple.
A whole fish baked on the bone will be extra tasty but you can bake filets too. I recently made up parcels of rainbow trout filets folded over a few lime slices, parsley and butter. The dish, prepared in minutes, was definitely greater than the sum of its parts, the flavor aromatic, the texture just right.
You need to heat the oven to a medium temperature, about 160C. Baking time is quick and depends on weight, generally 5-10 minutes for filets, 15-20 minutes for a big whole fish like our brill which was about a kilo in weight.
I was looking for a summer taste so I stuffed it with fresh ingredients I happened to have - tomatoes, parsley, lemon and wild garlic, a combination that really suited the delicate flesh of the brill.
I cooked the fish on a bed of fennel slices - when we opened our packets the fish was tender, fresh and ever so slightly aniseedy from the fennel. We ate with steamed baby potatoes and asparagus.
What you need
- 1 large whole brill (or similar white fish), gutted
- Handful of cherry tomatoes
- 1 lime
- Handful of parsley sprigs
- One fennel bulb
- A few knobs of butter
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
What you do
Chop the cherry tomatoes. Pop into a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt and a smidgen of olive oil. Add in the parsley and wild garlic. Cut out a piece of baking parchment large enough to comfortably wrap your entire fish. You can put a sheet of tin foil under this – it makes it easier to parcel the paper and less fiddly to open while cooking to check if the fish is sufficiently cooked. Thinly slice the fennel and arrange on the parchment as a bed for the fish.
To stuff the fish, with a sharp knife cut two incisions in a long line on either side of the spine, a couple of centimetres away from the backbone. Cut deep enough and wide enough to make a ‘pocket’ for stuffing. Place the fish on the fennel. Stuff the pockets with the tomato, parsley, wild garlic mix and a few knobs of butter. Tuck it all in securely and skewer closed.
Thinly slice the lime and arrange the slices on either side of the fish. Sprinkle sea salt around the fish and close the package. Bake till the flesh is firm but still moist – you can open the parcel and check when it starts to smell ready.
The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.