The sun was shining for the first time in weeks, the cruise-ship traffic was dissipating at the end of a high-traffic Saturday afternoon and Lynda Giguere and Marcia Day were prepared for conquest.
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Vegetables washed, rockfish cooling - the tupperware groaned and belched, foretelling the tale of a kitchen showdown epic and raw for its keen interplay of bottom-feeder, vegetable and parchment paper cooking methods.
It was just after 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 20 at the Paradise Cafe, site of the Food Challenge VI Cookoff Championships at the end of a hectic day for owner Joan Deering and staff. And as anticipation built, the house began to hush.
"I've never entered anything like this before," Day said.
"My husband said I should come in early and make sure the fire alarm was off," Giguere said.
One month ago, Food Challenge VI asked you to invent a dish incorporating (1) rockfish (2) parchment paper (3) one or more vegetables and (4) the use of scissors. The one-portion meal was to be cooked en papillote, in a moisture-retaining paper envelope.
Day concocted "Margarita on the Rock(fish)," a tequila-infused presentation of the fish on a parallel-bundled bed of carrots, zucchini and squash. The fish, purchased fresh at Fred Meyer, was topped with lime, green onions, diced tomatoes and home-grown cilantro.
"I'd never cooked in parchment paper before," Day said. "I started off with some different vegetables - black beans and corn. I didn't like the way they looked, and I had to get the right balance between not-too-moist and not-too-dry. I also tried Grand Marnier with it, but it didn't really do that much more for it."
Giguere cooked "Rockfish Mascarpone" in proxy for Food Challenge stalwart Ernesta Ballard, her former boss at the Department of Environmental Conservation. Ballard, now the senior vice president of corporate affairs for the Weyerhauser Co., was traveling with her husband by boat somewhere off the coast of Ketchikan at the time of the challenge.
"I never made this recipe before in my life," Giguere said. "I got back from Anchorage at 9 p.m. (the day before), and I was trying to memorize it along with all the other things I had to do at work. I'm notorious for not reading my recipes all the way through and stopping at a crucial point and blowing it."
No problem this time. Challenge-assistant Molly Hicks, also at DEC, brought fish fresh from Southeast waters. Giguere topped the filet with peach, fig and sweet onion, then doused the heap with port and balsamic vinegar. After cooking, she topped the fish with a scoop of marcarpone and a shower of honey and fresh pepper.
Ballard was inspired by a Portugese combination of salmon and peaches that she was once served by Juneau chef JoAnn Grady.
"The figs, port and balsamic vinegar came from one of my favorite brunch recipies," Ballard said. "The mascarpone was essential to provide some heft to the rather wimpy rockfish. The honey and pepper speak for themselves. Honey and pepper would taste good on real rocks. The sweet onion fulfilled the vegetable requirement, and I think added to the overall taste."
Join us now, as we take a look at "Rockfish Mascarpone" and "Margarita on the Rock(fish)."
2 fillets of rockfish, 1 pound apiece
6 fresh or dried Calimyrna figs
1 fresh peach or jar Del Monte Orchard Select peaches
sweet onion, Walla Walla or equivalent - sliced thin
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
balsamic vinegar - modena or equivalent
port wine - good quality
1 tablespoon butter
2 pieces parchment paper, at least 12" x 16"
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Spray baking dish with canola spray or grease lightly.
Fold parchment paper along the 12-inch length. Cut paper in the shape of a half heart with the fold down the center of the heart so that when the folded paper is opened, a full heart appears. Make the shape as big in all dimensions as the paper will allow.
Place a fillet of rockfish on one side of each heart, close to the fold.
Top and surround fillet with three or four slices of peach, three figs, sliced onion to taste, and one teaspoon chopped ginger. Drizzle with port and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and cracked pepper.
Fold the heart over the fillet and fillings. Starting at the top of the heart, fold the two sides together, folding the edge over itself twice and moving along the edge in increments. Crimp and squeeze forming a folded seam to keep the juices in during baking.
Place the paper envelopes in the baking dish. Melt the butter and baste the envelopes.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Remove envelopes from oven and place on plates. Unfold the seam and carefully scoop the paper away from the fish. Serve with a dollop of Mascarpone cheese topped with a drizzle of honey and fresh cracked pepper.
1 rockfish fillet, fresh or frozen (12 to 1 inch thick)
(approx. 14 lb. per serving )
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow summer squash
14 cup vine ripened tomato (diced)
1 tsp. cilantro (finally chopped)
1 green onion (sliced)
1 lime (sliced thin)
margarita salt (14 -12 tsp. or to taste)
12 tsp. tequila (optional)
Preparation (10 minutes):
1. Thaw fish, if frozen. Cut filet into single serving size (14 lb.) Soak fish fillet in 1 inch of milk for 5-10 minutes, turning once. Rinse and pat dry with paper towel.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
3. Cut parchment paper into a heart shape with a scissors. This is done by folding a 15-inch piece of parchment paper in half, lengthwise, and, starting at the bottom of the fold, cutting out a half heart shape. Make one parchment paper heart for each serving.
4. Cut carrots, zucchini and squash lengthwise into 14 inch by 23 inch pieces.
5. Dice tomatoes, chop cilantro and slice onion and a lime.
Assemble (five minutes):
1. Place parchment paper circle(s) on flat surface. On right half of the circle, place six strips each of carrots, zucchini and squash crosswise close to fold. Sprinkle with Margarita salt (14 tsp.)
2. Place fish fillet across the vegetables lengthwise. Sprinkle with margarita salt (14 tsp.)
3. Top fish with tequila, a thin slice of lime cut in half, green onions, diced tomatoes and cilantro, in that order.
4. Fold the left (top) half of the paper over to close, rolling the edges together tightly to seal the packet. Repeat assembly for additional servings.
5. Place the packet(s) on a baking sheet. The fish packets may be prepared up to a few hours ahead of time and keep refrigerated.
Bake in 450 F. oven for about 12 minutes (until the paper is puffed and browned).
Serve at once on individual plates, still wrapped in parchment. Open the packages carefully, as steam will escape.