April 1, 2007
Steelhead Fillets in Basil Rice Paper
Rice paper is an edible, transparent paper made from the pith of the rice-paper plant and water. This Vietnamese staple, often used as spring roll wrappers, has a plastic-like texture until soaked briefly in warm water, whereupon—like magic!—it becomes soft and pliable. When plump steelhead fillets embedded with fresh basil leaves are wrapped in softened rice paper, then cooked in a hot pan, the rice paper fuses to the surface of the fish and the basil leaves show through, like autumn leaves pressed between sheets of waxed paper. Pair the packets with an aromatic, slightly sweet wine, such as a Gewürztraminer, which often makes a good choice with salty and/or spicy Asian dishes. Pale to medium straw in color (sometimes with a pleasing rosy glow), “Gewürz” shows off aromas and flavors of apricot and peach, flowers (roses!), honey, and lychee backed up with spicy notes of cinnamon and cloves.
16 to 24 basil leaves, rinsed, drained, and patted dry
Four 6-ounce steelhead fillets, skin and pin bones removed and discarded, rinsed, drained, and patted dry
4 pieces rice paper
1 tablespoon sesame oil (Note: Use regular, not toasted or Asian sesame oil, in this recipe.)
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)
1. Place 2 or 3 basil leaves (depending on size) on the top and bottom of each of the fish fillets, pressing in the leaves to adhere to the surface of the fish. The leaves should not cover the fillets completely; there should still be fish flesh showing between and around the outer edges of the leaves.
2. Pour 1/4 inch of warm water onto a plate. Place 1 piece of rice paper in the water and allow to soak for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until pliable. Do not allow to soak too long or the rice paper will tear. Allow as much water as possible to drip off the rice paper and back onto the plate, then transfer the rice paper to a second plate.
3. Place a fish fillet in the center of the rice paper, fold two opposing ends of the rice paper to the middle of the fillet until they overlap, then repeat with the opposing ends. Turn the fillet over and place on another dry plate. Repeat this procedure with the remaining rice paper and fillets.
4. Over medium heat, place a nonstick skillet large enough to hold the fillets without crowding. When the pan is hot, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the fillets, decrease the heat to medium-low, and cook 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Turn the fish, being careful not to tear the rice paper, and finish cooking another 3 to 5 minutes. You will be able to see the steelhead change from translucent to opaque as it cooks. If unsure about doneness, check by carefully cutting into the middle of one of the packets with the tip of a small, sharp knife.
5. To serve, divide the steelhead packets among warmed dinner plates and drizzle with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce.
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
Makes about 1/4 cup
1/4 cup Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc nam)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Thai chile, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Place all the ingredients in a small nonreactive bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Recipe reprinted from the Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook, Gift Edition (Ten Speed Press, 2005)