Wrapping flaky white fish (like cod, halibut, haddock, or hake) in pancetta or bacon attracts eaters who might otherwise turn up their noses at seafood. And from the cook's point of view, the pair is well-matched. Bacon is the salty to fresh fish's sweet tone, the fat to its lean, and the crispy to its tender.
To nail this particular surf and turf combination, here are a few tips to ensure your bacon is well-cooked before your fish is overdone.
1. Think about thickness of your cured meat. When I wrap a piece of fish in bacon, I use thinly cut slices. They stretch in a kind of lacy pattern over the fish so that the bacon gets crispy during the relatively short time it takes to cook the fish. If I only have thick-cut bacon on hand (not such a tragedy, really, is it?), I lay the strips out on a baking sheet and par-cook them in the oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, wrapping them around the fish when they are still pliable but some of the fat has rendered.
2. Equalize the thickness of the fish. I prefer individual four- or five-ounce loin cuts of the fish. The loin is the prime part of a fillet taken from larger round fish. Sometimes it's in the budget to pay the extra two bucks a pound for this select cut — also called the captain's cut — but, when frugality calls, I buy the whole fillet, which comes with the thinner belly and tail portions too. To make sure all of my pieces of fish are cooked within the same timeframe, I fold the thinner pieces in half before wrapping them in bacon. Actually, if I am going to stuff the fillets before wrapping them (like in the recipe below), it's almost easier to work with the thinner pieces.
3. Sear at some point. Because bacon, when wrapped around the fish, is going to cook more slowly than it would if you fried it, at some point it will need a little push from a high-heat source to get it to the crispiness required. You can either sear the bacon-wrapped fish in an oven-safe skillet before you put the fish in the oven to finish cooking, or you can bake the fish until it is almost opaque, and crank up the broiler for the last two minutes of cooking time to crisp the bacon.
4. Give it a short rest. The bacon will continue to crisp when you remove it from the oven. I find that giving it a couple of minutes to rest does the trick.
6 canned or frozen artichoke hearts, quartered
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Leaves from 3 to 4 Italian parsley stems
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Four 5-ounce pieces of cod, preferably the loin, but you can work with the tail end of the fillet if need be
4 to 8 thinly sliced pieces of pancetta
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Photos by Mark Weinberg
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