One of my favorite things to do is wander around the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. You never know what fruits and vegetables you'll discover. So, I met up with my partner in crime, my friend Caroline, and we strolled the stalls. The farmers' market is a feast for the senses. I was surprised to find so much summer fruit coming from local California farms in December. I couldn't believe it when I saw that raspberries, blueberries, heirloom tomatoes, and plums are still around.
Nevertheless, my primary goal was to search for inspiration for dinner that night. I wanted to cook fish but wasn't sure how I wanted to prepare it. Then we happened upon a stall that was demonstrating and selling an usual fruit, finger limes. It's an unattractive, small, pickle-shaped citrus fruit that comes in a range of colors from brown to dark green or yellow. When you cut into the fruit and squeeze it, the most beautiful droplets of citrus come cascading out. The droplets look similar to caviar and pack a potent punch of lime flavor.
I decided to be adventurous and give these unusual limes a try. I was a little worried that these potent limes would over-power a delicate fish like whitefish, but thankfully they were just the right amount of flavor. When Caroline tasted the finger limes, she said that they should be paired with tequila in a drink.
With that inspiration in mind, I splashed some tequila over the fish for the flavor and moisture. Next, I seasoned the fish with homemade dried thyme and tarragon, and my combination of ingredients was complete. The prep time was complete within a few minutes. I let the flavors marry by marinating the fish in the refrigerator for a few hours.
The key to whitefish being moist is not to overcook it, and to let it steam in a parchment paper packet while baking in the oven.
This cooking method is called "en papillote." Don't be intimidated by the French name; the technique is quick, easy, and low fat. I have instructions below for how I did it, but for more information, see about.com. I think this cooking method works best when the fish is delicate and thin. I tried the parchment paper packet method with a thick piece of sea bass and was not as happy with the results.
I enjoyed cooking with finger limes because it was fun to experiment with a new ingredient. For another time I might try combining finger limes and tequila with cumin and cilantro for a classic Mexican flavor combination. Of course Caroline and I still need to try a finger lime cocktail recipe. To learn more about finger limes, check out shanleyfarms.com.
Recipe for Herb Lime Whitefish Baked in Parchment Paper
Serves 2 adults and 2 kids
1 lb fresh, wild caught whitefish
Salt and pepper to taste
1-½ teaspoons olive oil
4 teaspoons tequila
2 finger limes
½ of a small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1. Cut the finger limes in half and gently squeeze them until all the little citrus balls (the pulp) come cascading out. Set aside.
2. Rinse the whitefish and pat dry.
3. Season the skin side of the fish with salt, pepper and ¾ teaspoon of olive oil.
4. Season the flesh side of the fish with salt, pepper, ¾ teaspoon of olive oil, tequila, the pulp from the finger limes, shallot, tarragon, and thyme. Spread the seasoning across the surface of the fish. Cover and let marinade in the refrigerator for a few hours.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To make the parchment packets: Take a piece of parchment paper that is more than twice the size of your piece of fish. Fold the paper in half. Place the fish inside the folded paper next to the folded edge. Pour any extra marinade on top of the fish. Close up the seams of the packet by folding and rolling in the edges until the fish is enclosed in the paper. Place the fish packets on a rimmed cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 13-14 minutes in a convection oven or at least 15 minutes in a regular oven. Fish is done when the flesh is firm, flaky and opaque. Exact cooking time will depend on the thickness of the piece of fish. Don't be afraid to open a packet to check for doneness. Be careful of warm steam coming out when you open a packet. Do not overcook.