Oven Poached Fish in Olive Oil

I’ve always loved cooking for people. I rarely cook just for myself. This is partly because cooking is an activity with a very specific end result. When I cook, I create something. And that’s something I want to share. Often it’s something I want to show off. I’ll be the first to admit that humility is not an ingredient in my cooking.

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So, I’ve always loved having dinner parties. Even when I lived in apartments with impossibly small kitchens, I’d have friends over for dinner. Out of a half size oven and a workspace the size of school desk, I have produced multi course meals for eight people. When Steve and I met, we found our love for food was mutual. So, the dinner parties continued and became more elaborate. We started pairing wines with every course. We printed menus.

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The only problem with such extravagant affairs has been that at times we ended up spending more time in the kitchen than at the table with our friends. So, over the last few years I’ve adjusted our menus, opting for dishes that can be prepared ahead of time and served easily and quickly. This recipe is one of our favorites. It takes 15 minutes to put together but the result is delicious and impressive.

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Fish is especially difficult for dinner parties. It so often requires cooking right before eaten, it smells up the kitchen, and it can easily be overcooked. By poaching it gently in the oven in olive oil, this recipe takes care of all of those problems. In fact, I’ve often left it in the oven for 30 minutes past what the recipe says and I’ve never had any problems with it. The fish always comes out tender, moist, and flavorful.

If you are worried about the amount of olive oil, don’t be. The fish absorbs almost none of it. And in the end, you can strain the olive oil and keep it in the fridge. Use it whenever you cook anything with seafood. It will have only the slightest hint of the fish, capers, and lemons.

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Oven Poached Fish in Olive Oil – Slightly adapted from Epicurious.com

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

1/4 cup capers, rinsed
2 – 2 1/2 lb (1-inch-thick) skinless, firm, white flesh fish fillets (such as halibut or chilean sea bass)
1 1/2 large lemons, very thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
About 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil (enough to cover the fish)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Chop half of capers and pat fish dry. Sprinkle fish with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and let stand 10 minutes at room temperature. Arrange half of lemon slices in 1 layer in an 8-inch square glass baking dish and arrange fish in 1 layer over lemon. Top with all of capers, remaining lemon slices, and 3 tablespoons parsley, then pour oil over fish. Bake in middle of oven, uncovered, until fish just flakes and is cooked through, about 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Serve fish with some of lemon slices, capers, and oil spooned over. Sprinkle with remaining parsley.

Spaghetti with Garlic, Lemon, and Parsley

The day after our wedding, I began to lose my ability to smell and taste. It happened gradually but quickly. I first noticed that I was having a hard time smelling some of the more nuanced notes in food. At the same time, I started experiencing a phantom smell and taste. It had a strange herbal, slightly toasted quality and I began to smell it in everything. While in Iceland, everything had this strange taste. At first I thought it was a local herb they used in most of their food. We even asked a waitress about it but she had no idea what we were talking about. Steve and I started joking that it was the taste of lamb that was permeating everything, since lamb was so common in Iceland.

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By the end of the trip, things had gotten worse. When we got back to New York I pretty much lost the ability to smell anything but the strongest odors and I could only taste strong and basic flavors: sweet, salty, bitter. Some things, like coffee, now tasted and smelled exclusively of that weird toasted herbal phantom flavor. It was obvious something was wrong.

There are times when not being able to smell can be a blessing (yes, I am talking about you, mister I-don’t-wear-deodorant-at-the-gym). But those times are very few. Not being able to taste or smell food was devastating for me. I was trying not to panic but it was hard not to. Beyond the loss of pleasure from food, I started to feel a strange kind of isolation from everything around me. Like I was living in a plastic bubble. I realized how  much our sense of smell helps connect us to our surroundings, much like our sight and hearing.

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A quick visit to Dr. Google was not very reassuring (is it ever?). There were lots of Greek words, like anosmia (complete loss of smell), parosmia (inability to correctly smell), and dysgeusia (distortion of sense of taste). The probable causes of my symptoms were many and some were very scary.

So, last Wednesday I went to a real doctor, an ENT. Within 5 minutes I was diagnosed. I had a “giant” (his word) polyp in each nostril which was blocking my olfactory nerves. Fortunately, nothing too serious. He recommended an aggressive treatment with Prednisone and antibiotics for a month, and Flonase “for the rest of my life” (his words again). Surgery would be the next step, if the polyps didn’t respond to the meds.

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A quick visit to Dr. Google again (I know, I can’t resist) revealed that nasal polyps are common for people with chronic sinusitis and allergies (that would be me) and that they are especially common among men over the age of 40 (damn you 40s! You are so not the new 30s, no matter what anyone says).

I started the meds on Thursday morning. By Friday night, I was feeling much better. My sinuses were no longer clogged up and I was starting to smell and taste things again. Both Steve and I were immensely relieved. This spaghetti with garlic, lemon, and parsley is what I made and it was the first thing I was able to taste correctly in about 3 weeks. I’ve always liked this dish but on that night I thought it was the best thing I had ever tasted.

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Spaghetti with Garlic, Lemon, and Parsley
Slightly adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook: More than 1000 recipes

Serves 4

1 lb spaghetti
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2-3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cook pasta in a 6-8 quart pot of boiling salted water (1 T salt for every 4 quarts water) until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain pasta.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12 inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 3 minutes.

Stir lemon zest into skillet, then stir in juice, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup reserved cooking water and bring to a simmer.

Toss pasta in sauce with parsley. Add more cooking water if pasta seems dry.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese on top.