by Annette Lucido
As the weather cools we find baking fish serves several functions. First, it's delicious. Second, it frees the cook to join guests as most of the work is done early. Third, it seems to suit cooler weather. Then, too, baking can take a bit of the chill off the house. The recipes that follow work best with speckled trout and other "round" fish and it's best with oily fish that don't dry out when baked. This is in contrast to flounder and sole that might take half the cooking time. However, recipes that bake fish in a bit of liquid also work for dry fish.
Of course, while baking isn't difficult each oven is different. So the 325 to 350 setting usual for fish more than three inches thick that works at home may be different at the beach. Note that fish less than an inch thick should be baked at 400 to 425 degrees so that they don't have time to dry out. Everything gets baked about ten minutes per inch of thickness.
Placement and orientation of your fish in the oven effects results. Most ovens are a bit hotter at the back. So put the fish in with its thicker top side in that direction. If you cook a batch of fillets in ovenware rotate the dish 90 degrees a couple of times to even up the result. You may also find some dishes look a bit better if glazed with butter and given a shot under the broiler just before serving. This restaurant technique improves the appearance of your result.
We make this with fresh speckled trout. It's been a favorite dish since we worked up the recipe for a Sports Afield article about Hemingway's favorite fish dishes years back. The impressive dish provides a fine focus for a formal meal for those who are honored to share a trophy fish, or work at an informal gathering.
This classic deserves total attention so we serve accompanied only with home-baked French bread after soup - curried mussel or dill salmon soup - and before salad in the French mode.
Clean whole fish, pat dry and place on a greased baking dish or sheet. Spread the fins and tail and protect them against burning with folded aluminum foil you remove just before serving Note: if you leave the head on replace the eye with an olive just before serving.
Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat and saute' chopped onion and celery until tender. Add sage, thyme, parsley, cooked rice and drained green olives with pimentos and mix well. Stuff trout with rice just before you bake it. Rice addicts can place extra rice in a buttered casserole, wait 15 minutes, then bake it with the trout. Note: baste rice casserole with any juice from the trout. Salt and pepper the trout and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork. Rice stuffing made up to a day early refrigerates until ready to use.
If you like crisp, brown trout skin baste the fish with melted butter as it bakes. If you dislike skin, neatly remove it from the upper side of the trout before serving. Then decorate the trout with "scales" made from a second can of sliced green olives and a 'gill' formed with diced red pimentos. Brush with melted butter before serving Serves 6 to 8.
FISH BAKED WITH VEGETABLES
The "instant dinner" can be made ahead and held in the refrigerator until it's ready to cook. In this case add ten minutes to the cooking time. As a result you can spend time with your guests.
You can substitute diced bacon for the salt pork or leave it out entirely if your diet requires this. If your fillets are less than an inch thick please reduce the cooking time.
In a skillet, fry the salt pork until crisp and golden. Add the onion, mushrooms, green pepper, carrots, celery, dill weed and parsley. Cook until tender. In a buttered baking dish, add the cooked vegetables, and place the fish fillets on top. Top with the lemon slices and pour the wine over them.
Cover and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Remove the cover, baste and continue to cook about 10 minutes or until the fish flakes when tested with a fork. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice, a brown-and-serve loaf of French bread and a green salad.
BAKED FISH IN SPANISH SAUCE
If you add rather a lot of cumin you can give this dish a Mexican flavor. We prefer the more European taste. We also like to use finely diced fresh tomatoes like the extra firm Roma popular with sauce makers instead of the canned stewed tomatoes. This adds a fresher flavor.
There is considerable leeway in chopped peppers too. Depending on the state of the garden, or the sale at the store, we add one, two or even three peppers. At times a hot pepper finds its way into this dish as does extra garlic.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a shallow baking pan with one tablespoon butter. Arrange the fillets side by side in the pan.
In a skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat and cook the garlic, onion, celery and bell pepper until tender. Stir in flour and cook until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar, Spanish rice seasoning, thyme and parsley. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and pour over the fish fillets.
Bake 30 minutes or until the fish flakes when tested with a fork. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice. This dish will serve 4 to 5 hungry fishermen
KILLER SIDE DISH
We couldn't leave this easy favorite out. It also works for breakfast if you break an egg or two on top after the first side browns.
Slice the cleaned white potato and the peeled yam as thin as you can. Mix. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add about a teaspoon of butter and a teaspoon of oil. When it's hot add the potatoes. Let them sit a bit to brown and then flip the "potato cake" to brown the other side. Salt and pepper to taste. Note that the pan size should be large enough so that your "cake" is no more than two or three layers thick.
REDS WITH WINE AND APPLES
The combination of tart apples and mustard sounds odd, but this colorful dish suits even those who don't usually enjoy "bland" fish. You can, if you like, add red and yellow apples to this dish. Different types of mustard offer worthwhile variations too. We use Russian Honey, Deli, Green peppercorn, whole mustard seed and just about any other kind save for the standard yellow type. For an apple orgy consider a baked apple that's cored and filled with rum-soaked raisins and brown sugar that starts baking with the fish and finishes up as you eat.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook noodles per package directions. Core apples but do not remove skin, and cut them into 1/4-inch slices. Saute' apples in 3 tablespoons of butter until lightly browned and set aside. Layer fillets in a buttered baking dish. Spread mustard evenly over fillets and add cooked apples on and around the fish. Cover with clam juice and one cup of wine. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork.
While fish cooks combine remaining wine and onions in a skillet and reduce liquid to a spoonful. Drain clam/wine liquid from the baking dish into the skillet and keep the cooked fish warm. Boil liquid and reduce by half, then add remaining butter and cook one to two minutes more until sauce becomes glossy. Serve fish and apples over buttered noodles, top with sauce. We complete this meal with a tossed green and tomato salad.
THEMES AND VARIATIONS
Stuffed whole baked fish work nicely for family dinners too, and you don't need large fish to do this. We often cook trout in the ten to fourteen inch long range, by setting them into a pan with their body cavity facing up for easy stuffing. Tip: you may need crushed foil between the fish or a toothpick or two to prop things up. We prefer a home-made pecan, dried apricot, brandy and home-made bread stuffing that we use with our holiday turkey, and we match this up with a brandy-sauce. So next time you make stuffing for a holiday bird fix extra and freeze it in small batches to use with fish. There are so many store-bought stuffings on the market that we can't keep track. When rushed it's not unknown to use "sweeten up" one of these like wild rice and mushroom mix with some chopped shrimp or oysters and our favorite seasonings. You can stuff fillets no more than a half-inch thick too; just wrap them up and keep the cooked stuffing layer no more than a couple of inches in diameter. Otherwise it won't heat up unless you overcook the fish. Fillets, or flatfish such as flounder also stack into "sandwiches." These can be as wild as your imagination permits with fillings such as oriental vegetables, thin slices of sweet onions, etc.