I’ve had a fig tree in my back yard for the past eight or nine years maybe. I also first heard or read about wrapping fish in the leaves even before that in a Food and Wine article about Alice Waters if I am not mistaken. I cannot tell why it took me so long to finally try this but it is a delicious and classy way of cooking and serving fish – beautiful wild King Salmon in this case. The recipe (or more like process) is very simple and it is from the classic Chez Panisse book by Paul Bertolli and Alice Waters. I picked a few nice fig leaves from the backyard tree and washed them thoroughly. I rubbed them with a bit of olive oil and then trimmed and seasoned the fish with salt and pepper.
Nothing is needed to tie the leaves around the fish. I just laid the fillets on the oiled leaves and wrapped the leaves around the fish the best I could. These are ready to go on the grill now. So, I had a hot charcoal fire ready and laid the fish on it with the leaf seams down. After grilling for a few minutes the leaves are basically sealed and the fish can be flipped on the other side to finish cooking. The fig leaves imbue the fillet with a delightful smoky musky aroma and taste that really complements the fattiness of the meat. The leaves are not meant to be eaten by the way. Instead I peeled them gently from the fish when I served it and then dressed the fish with the sauce.
The sauce is a straightforward beurre rouge, or red butter sauce. It’ made by cooking down a lot of wine and aromatics like carrots, celery, onions, shallots, thyme…until you’re only left with a few tablespoons. Then you stir in lot of cold butter and strain the tasty light red emulsion and keep it warm until ready to serve. Like any butter sauce, it’s not a good idea to make this too far in advance because as it sits it can, and probably will, break and separate. The best way to hold it for thirty minutes or so is to leave the small pot containing the sauce on top of a larger pot of hot steaming (not boiling) water as in a double boiler.
I was not sure what to serve with the fish so I flipped through the same book for ideas and found Paul Bertolli’s version of another French Bistro classic. Leeks vinaigrette is made by boiling leeks until tender and then dressing them up with a vinaigrette that typically includes shallots and red wine vinegar. This recipe incorporates anchovies and a garnish of hard cooked eggs as well. Since I was grilling the fish I decided to get some grill flavor and marks on the leeks to. Why waste a perfectly good roaring hot pile of charcoal? So after boiling the leeks I rubbed them with a bit of oil and grilled them for a minute or so per side. Then I tossed them in the dressing and plated them topped with the minced hard cooked eggs and more dressing. The grilled leeks got amazingly sweet and smoky on the grill and were so delicious in this preparation that I could eat a whole pile of them. The worked great with the fish too and did not distract from the lovely flavor of the fish. Now, I hope it is not going to take me another 8 years before I use the fig leaves to cook again!