Learning To Sail & Fish Cooked in Paper with Walnut Pesto

Several years after I arrived in Mykonos, I developed an insane desire to learn how to sail. I would sit on the beach between work shifts and look out to some horizon and see these swan-like white sails being blown along at various distances from the shore. I knew I had to learn this mode of transportation.
In a sailing school in Athens, I did a crash course, condensing two months worth of lessons into one month since traveling back and forth from Athens to Mykonos was both costly and time consuming. The only problem was that during that whole month, not once on a single day, did the wind ever blow hard enough to be able to open a sail while at sea. The instructor did open it once to show us that this, class, was a sail. I got my sailing license without ever seeing a sail being opened for the purpose of sailing.
So of course I still needed to learn how to sail.
I decided that I would need a job on a sailboat (cooking of course) and that way, I was sure to pick up more about the art of opening and closing a sail, etc. I mailed my CV to many Caribbean charter yacht owners, and I landed a job in St. Thomas. I was asked whether I had ever cooked on a boat before, I answered no. I was advised to find a sailboat being delivered from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean for the winter season, apply as crew, and cook non-stop throughout the whole of the Mediterranean and Atlantic delivery until I reached St. Thomas. I would then not only have ample experience cooking on a boat, but I would also have worked for the voyage, lowering my transportation costs.
What a grand idea, I thought.
I remembered that on the same dock that the sailing school boat was tied to, there was also a sign advertising a Sailing Charter Company with Bases in Greece, Turkey, and the Caribbean. Cool. So I walked up and down the dock, asking my routine question; “Anyone bringing a boat over to the Caribbean?” until I finally received a “Yes. Down there.” .
To make a long story shorter, I found the captain and the boat  and became a member of the crew. I eventually also became a member of his family and he of mine, but that’s yet another story. We crossed the Atlantic there and back, the second time I brought back a boat of my own, as captain.
Why am I telling you all this?
Oh yes; Fish in Paper.
So when you cross the Atlantic, you eat a LOT of fish because you catch a lot of fish. Once the refrigerated and frozen (if you’re lucky) meat  has run out, it’s fish, day in day out. Fried fish, baked fish, fish soup, fish salad, fish pie; you try to be as creative as you can, but at some point you are so sick of it that no matter how you prepare it, it will still be fish. Fish baked in paper was an idea I had, but never made, because parchment paper was not on any supply list on any boat I ever cooked on, and using aluminum foil seemed inferior and just reminded me of other culinary techniques. Until I finally made this dish, many years later, I always felt that it must be the ultimate fish recipe because it was The One I couldn’t do out there on the ocean and it would of course have been the best – the one that made fish taste the most delicious way imaginable and make us forget that we also had it for breakfast.

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Fish Cooked in Paper with Walnut Pesto

serves 2

2 pieces of white meat fish filets or steaks (Mai Mai would be perfect – we caught a lot of that)
3 medium sized potatoes, boiled, cut into thick slices
1 large fresh  vine ripened tomato, cut into at least four thick slices
3 tablespoons Walnut Pesto
freshly ground black pepper
a dash of sea salt
2 sheets of parchment paper

Walnut Pesto:
In a food processor, combine:
1 large handful of walnuts
1 clove of garlic
one packed handful of fresh Basil
1/4 cup olive oil
dash of sea salt
Blend/chop until nuts are still grainy and basil is finely chopped.

Preheat oven to 350F (170C)

Spread out the sheet of parchment paper. Place half the potato slices in the center. Sprinkle a little salt. Place the fish filet or steak directly on top of the potatoes. Spread the fish with 11/2  tablespoons of pesto. Place two tomato slices on top of the fish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and add a little more salt and pepper.

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Now you need to fold up the paper into a package. Grab the two ends of the paper, above and below the fish and raise them to the center, directly above the fish, bringing them together. Now start rolling the two ends together downwards towards the fish, stopping just above it, not too tight. Fold the ends of the rolled paper under the fish so that it weighs the ends down. Place the ‘package’ in a baking dish.

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Repeat the process with the remaining pieces of fish and paper.

Bake  for approximately 20 minutes.

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4 comments on “Learning To Sail & Fish Cooked in Paper with Walnut Pesto

  1. C.J. Mayer says:

    Wonderful!! I must try that. Do you know whether it is possible to “rehabilitate” Basil that has gone to flower/seed? Mine has gotten away from me, and I am afraid it is now bitter. Can I cut it back and then cook wiht the new growth?

    • Anke says:

      Thank you!
      There are so many different types of basil around in the meantime that it is hard to say whether cutting it back will work. Try! Get off all buds and flowers, still leaving enough leaves, if that’s possible. There are also “all-year” or 4 Season basil types available that can be maintained literally all year long. I think another name for that type is Winter Basil.You can also pick and freeze basil throughout the summer in order to have a nice stock of it on hand for tha winter. I prefer frozen basil over dried basil as it still maintains a lot of that fresh basil aroma.

  2. Harry K. says:

    Awesome story Anke. I’ve always want to know how to make Skordalia.

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