I’m having a fling with spring, it’s true. A little rain here and there – Wednesday night I met my friend Anne for wine in the lower Haight and what I thought was fog on the way turned out to be a storm as we sat and sipped, which gave us the perfect excuse to linger a bit longer – and even more sun. Which, you know. (But I like the rain to balance it out.) Today there’s not a cloud in the sky and I’m drinking water in preparation for a run and nibbling on leftover busy-day cake and feeling the cool breeze through my open window.
Then again, any sun is welcome regardless of season. But when it’s spring, especially late spring, I tend to go a little nuts. Bake two cakes for a cake testing in the two free hours I have today? Well, sure! Make plans for every night of the week? Of course! Morning yoga class, farmer’s marketing, and a swim later in the day? Sign me up! It’s like I forgot for awhile how nice the rest of the year can be; I felt ensconced in the depths of winter and now have had the epiphany: oh right, this ends eventually and the trees turn green again and blossoms bloom and flowers grow and gardens start to ripen and I was sick to the teeth of winter ad infinitum … It’s spring! All is right with the world again.
Also, sun from morning ’til night: o, glory!
Anyway, I was thinking about how sometimes I sort of flippantly mention something I’ve cooked – beef stew, for example (but really I am working up a recipe for that), cupcakes with strawberry buttercream, honeyed biscuits, etc. etc. – and don’t necessarily provide instructions for cooking it. Sometimes this is because I forget, and then other times it’s because I don’t know if anyone would really want a recipe that’s so simple. Yet I think I could be mining a bit of a treasure-trove of “Nicole” recipes here on le blog and shouldn’t be so hasty to dismiss a dish just because I think it’s so easy it’s not worth mentioning.
In particular today, of course, I mean the way I make fish. YES! I know! A vegetarian cooking fish … stop the presses. Well, it’s true: I do cook beef stew, roast chicken, fish of different stripes, from time to time. I don’t eat it myself but those who do always give good reviews and I got to wondering that maybe my preparations do garner such nice feedback because they’re fairly basic but rely upon fresh, clear ingredients to let the flavors come through. The way I cook a piece of fish (typically salmon or halibut) is to douse it with freshly squeezed lemon juice (bottled works in a pinch) and splashed of olive oil and white wine. Salt and pepper come next, along with any fresh herbs if I have them, and the fish is layered with lemon slices and baked for about 15 minutes. Sometimes I’ll sautee some mushrooms and shallots or make up a parsley pesto to go on top, but for the most part it’s just splashes of this and that with simple seasonings. Not a fancy or fussy recipe, but a solid one all the same. And in the spirit of spring and sun and all good things, I thought I’d share it today.
I think the key is to get pretty fresh fish; you don’t have to fool around with it too much if you have a fairly good-quality filet. In the Bay Area, I most often take advantage of the abundance of locally caught halibut (the Ferry Building Fish Market is my favorite place to get it), and if I buy salmon I will always get wild-caught (even if it’s from Alaska). Wild-caught fish is typically more expensive, but to me it’s important that I make the effort – and spend the extra pennies – to seek it out for a host of environmental and personal reasons (no. 1 being that … I’m a vegetarian). To counter the cost, I don’t buy it every day – it’s more of a treat – and the rest of the meal is composed of vegetables from the farmers’ market (always a bargain, at least for me in San Francisco). However, just between you and me, I have also cooked the (wild) salmon filets from Trader Joe’s which are bought frozen and defrosted and while I’m sure they are not as tender and delectable as a fresh filet they still seem to go down nicely (either that or my husband is an uncomplaining sort). (But my preference is for fresh, wild, and as local as possible.)
If I had a ‘food aesthetic’ it would be this: simple, fresh, tasty. Yes I’ll hand-make pasta on occasion but let’s face it: any dish that involves minimal prep work, does most of its cooking in the oven, and tastes delicious is a winner in anyone’s book. It certainly is in mine. If I hadn’t just made fish on Sunday I might consider it again for this weekend … but then again, why not? Spring’s too lovely to spend too many hours chained to the stove. I want to get out and soak it all up.
Baked Fish with Lemon and White Wine
Check the fish after 10 minutes if your oven runs hot; add a little more water or white wine if the baking dish looks dry. Fish is cooked when it very gently flakes when pulled with a fork. Serve this with: roasted fingerling potatoes + garlic, roasted cauliflower or asparagus, a big green salad.
for one, easily doubled, quadrupled, etc.
1/2 pound fresh, wild-caught salmon, halibut, or another white fish
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed if possible
thinly cut lemon slices from 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
Oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking dish with the olive oil.
Place the fish in the baking dish and turn a few times to coat. Add the white wine and lemon juice and swish around in pan to saturate the fish. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Layer with lemon slices.
Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes; check after 15 minutes. I will add a bit of water or vegetable broth if the oven is running hot – you don’t want to the fish to dry out.