Filleting a whole fish is among the “basic techniques that are universal to all cuisines,” said Alice Waters in In the Green Kitchen (Clarkson Potter). Learning how to do so can be liberating—as can learning how to roast a chicken, to make the perfect salad dressing, or to know a steak is cooked medium rare just by touch. “Once learned, by heart, these are the techniques that free cooks from overdependence on recipes and a fear of improvisation.”
Such techniques are taught at the Green Kitchen, a San Francisco Bay Area demonstration kitchen where local cooks give short lessons. The resident expert on fish, Chez Panisse chef Jean-Pierre Moullé, grew up “hunting, fishing, and foraging” in Bordeaux, France—and he’s “never lost his love for the wild gifts of the land and sea.” Ask your fishmonger for a fresh whole rockfish with the guts, scales, and gills removed. Then try your hand at Moullé’s simple recipe.
Recipe of the week
Baked Rockfish With Lemon & Parsley Butter
10 to 12 sprigs Italian parsley
6 tbsp (¾ stick) butter
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 to 1½ lbs rockfish fillets (or other fish; 4 to 6 oz per serving)
Gutting the fish
Using a long, thin, sharp knife with a flexible blade, lay fish on one side and make a cut behind the head and pectoral fin, but leave head attached to spine. Make another cut along dorsal fin from head to tail.
Insert knife at about the center of fish, and slice through horizontally with knife, moving along top of spine and out toward tail. Insert knife again midway, where you began, and cut along the spine, moving back toward the head. Remove fillet and trim away any remaining flesh or small bones surrounding the gut cavity. Flip fish and repeat. Rinse fillets and pat dry, and refrigerate or keep on ice until ready to cook.
Cooking the fish
First make lemon and parsley butter. Grate zest of lemon. Chop leaves of parsley. Peel and finely dice shallot, put it in a bowl, and squeeze lemon juice over to just cover. Let shallot macerate in juice for 10 minutes, then add butter, lemon zest, and parsley. Season with salt and a generous amount of black pepper, and mash butter to mix everything together.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow baking dish or roasting pan, or line with parchment paper. Place fillets in baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and moisten lightly with olive oil. Bake fish for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness of fillets, until just cooked through but still moist. Serve with a spoonful of parsley butter on top of each fillet. Serves four.
You can make butter with another herb or combination of herbs (basil, chervil, chives, fennel, tarragon), or add 3 or 4 chopped, salt-packed anchovy fillets to butter.