Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and this week I’m making Herb Roasted Fish for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and “challenges” along the way along with suggestions on how to adapt Ina’s recipe to a small kitchen.
Episode: “Italian at Home”
The Set-up: Ina, Jeffrey and their friends are recreating recipes from a memorable trip to Italy.
0:49 – Ina and Jeffrey took a trip to Florence, Italy recently and it seems like he won the ordering game at Cibrèo when he ordered a baked fish. Ina’s making her version at home.
1:30 – The technique is a little different – the Herb Roasted Fish baked in parchment paper which allows the cod and seasonings to steam together as they cook.
2:45 – Wow, this comes together so fast. Once the fish has its own sheet of parchment it’s topped with a few sprigs of thyme, a couple large olives, and a smattering of salt, pepper and olive oil. #howeasyisthat?
3:19 – Now that the fish is prepped – Ina is brushing the edges with egg wash to help seal the packets. It’s like a little craft project.
4:22 – PS: I see Ina doing this on her lovely butcher block cutting boards, but I’d probably just work straight on the baking sheet and save myself some clean up.
5:38 – Dinner is going to be served “al fresco” and the table setting is suitably rustic: a linen-lined bread basket filled with fresh lemons and lemon leaves.
6:01 –The theme is modern square plates, napkins, glasses lined up in a row and Ina is channeling her inner butler; making sure the spacing is just so. She thinks the Italians are so effortlessly stylish, but she is too!
9:33 – On to the Celery and Parmesan Salad. Ina says that Italians use celery more than Americans and I agree – why have I relegated celery to a filler or garnish?
10:40 – Per usual, Ina is making her own dressing but this time it’s a lemon and celery seed vinaigrette, not her traditional mustard-based version.
11:55 – The dressing also involves anchovy paste – another ingredient I have an odd relationship with. When I don’t know it’s there we’re cool, but it kinda weirds me out.
12:14 – One thing about a celery salad is that it probably stays crisp (even when dressed) for quite a long time.
13:29 Over to Barbara and Bobby Liberman who are on the hunt for wine. They’re sticking with Italian vineyards – a red for appetizers and a white for dinner. Success!
14:36 – For appetizers Ina is going rustic and casual – a few salted cashews, marinated olives, and some artisanal potato chips.
15:07 – It really doesn’t get easier than this. Step 1: open package, Step 2: place in silver bowl, Step 3: profit.
18:42 – Jeffrey, Bobby, and Barbara are relaxing in the backyard over the appetizers and reminiscing about their trip while Ina cooks Creamy Parmesan Polenta.
19:35 – Full disclosure: I am horrendous at cooking polenta it regularly comes out too thick and gummy. So, let listen to Ina’s words of polenta wisdom instead - whisk first to prevent lumps, then stir with a wooden spoon over low heat. It sounds so simple!
20:18 – Jeffrey makes an appearance to top off Ina’s glass of wine and gets to help out by putting the Herb Roasted Fish in the oven. He also wins husband points for checking on Ina.
21:00 – Time to finish the polenta by adding the parmesan cheese and plate the Celery and Parmesan Salad with shavings of parmesan, toasted walnuts, and parsley leaves.
22:11 – Dinner is served! Barbara immediately recognizes the fish recipe and exclaims how lovely it is. Well played, Ina.
23:39 – A mutual agreement that no one knows how to ask for wine in Italian, even though Bobby can (allegedly) order a bottle in six languages. That seems like a miss if you ask me, time to take some Italian lessons Mr. Liberman.
27:22 – While her guests wind down from dinner Ina’s working on dessert: Affogato Sundaes, which combine both dessert and coffee by pouring espresso over vanilla and hazelnut ice cream. Sounds like heaven.
28:36 – She’s using a Nespresso machine to brew espresso shots. Some day when we have slightly more counter space…
29:54 – These are insane: coffee liqueur, homemade whipped cream, and chopped chocolate covered espresso beans. I want to do a face-plant into these bowls. Amazing.
What a fun idea to recreate a memorable dinner from a trip with friends.
Trust Ina to make a themed dinner so elegant and effortless with simple ingredients.
I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the power of a silver bowl to make everything feel special and intentional.
I’ve wanted to try cooking en papillote - French for "in parchment" - or al cartoccio – since this is an episode about Italian cooking – for a long time and as I watched Ina cook the Herb Roasted Fish I was inspired to finally do it. What’s a bit funny to me is that if you replace the elegant cod with something like trout you’re really just one step removed from campfire cooking.
Fish Selection - It is worth asking your seafood counter helper for thicker, meaty pieces of cod as I find they stand up to the roasting process better. If, you have some variation in size among the filets, then I’d recommend putting the smaller ones on the same sheet pan and staggering their into the oven by a minute or two. That way everything is done at the same time and is perfectly cooked.
Packet Construction – I tried two different ways of sealing the packets – Ina’s empanada style and what I think of as deli style (rolled toward the middle and then tucked under. In both cases without the egg wash to seal them closed they did leak a bit but the results were still excellent.
Seasoning – The cooking process is somewhere between poaching and steaming so it’s important to add plenty of seasoning so that the delicate flavor of the fish is enhanced and the liquid creates a delicious sauce. I made a few changes to Ina's original recipe swapping in butter butter for the olive oil and capers for the olives.
Herb Roasted Fish in Parchment Paper (4 servings)
4 (8 ounce) boneless snapper or cod fillets
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (2-3 lemons) freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons (3-4 sprigs) fresh thyme
2 teaspoons drained capers
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Pat the fish dry with paper towels and place each piece on a sheet of parchment paper. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper, then place 1/2 tablespoon of butter under each filet. Drizzle with lemon juice and scatter the thyme leaves and capers over the top. Repeat with the other three pieces of fish evenly dividing the seasonings among the pieces of fish.
Beat the egg together with 1 tablespoon of water for an egg wash. Brush the egg wash around the edge of the parchment paper and fold it in half. Carefully fold the edge of the parchment paper under and around the fish to make a package. Place the package on a sheet pan and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the fish is cooked through. Serve hot in the parchment paper.
Lightly adapted and rewritten from Ina Garten’s Herb Roasted Fish.
Small Kitchen Friendly?
1,000,000%. All I used were 2 rimmed sheet pans, a chef’s knife, small cutting board, measuring spoons (but really you could just estimate, this is a forgiving recipe) and a fish spatula. Parchment paper and paper towels are essential here.
Lord this is good. Trust Ina to pinpoint a restaurant quality meal that takes so little effort you could almost forget you're cooking. Delicately poached code in its own buttery, lemony, faintly herbal juices while the capers add their own briny punch to the mix. Point 2: it will never cease to be a teat that in the time it takes my rickety little oven to heat up, I can have the entire main course prepped and ready to go.