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Do you steer clear of cooking fish because it seems difficult, or because you don’t like the smell it can leave in your kitchen for the rest of the day? I used to avoid it for those reasons, but not anymore, and I’m confident this easy fish dinner with ginger miso dressing can change your mind too.
I’ve come to realize, after years of being a bit underconfident when it comes to cooking seafood, that it honestly isn’t that hard to cook. Gently steamed, fish will cook quickly and is more forgiving than you might think when it comes to the right level of doneness.
Introducing the fish parcel
These fish parcels allow you to create all-in-one single serve dinner packages which steam gently in the oven. (If you have a steam oven, even easier because you don’t need to worry about the parcel component of this meal. You can simply pop your fish and some vegetables into a baking dish and steam dinner that way - see the steam oven method below).
Cooking inside a parcel or bag stems from the French method ‘en papillote’, which translates to food that’s cooked (and often served) in a paper wrapping.
With en papillote, the food is baked in an oven, but it actually steams inside the wrapping with all the seasonings and cooking juices trapped inside, maximizing flavour and nutrients in your meal. Aluminium foil is a modern alternative which most of us have in the kitchen already, and it can be easily scrunched closed nice and tight. Baking or parchment paper is more traditional, though you’ll probably need to tie up your parcels to keep them sealed if you use paper – you don’t want the steam which builds inside the parcel during cooking to escape.
Buying and storing fish
Eating great fish is all in the purchasing, my friends.
This sounds like a cliché, but good fresh seafood actually does just smell of the sea. Stinky old fish is a different story – I avoid my supermarket seafood counter for that reason, as well as any fishmonger where I can smell the wares from half a street away. Choose a store or a market vendor who sells fish that’s firm and bright-looking, a place that knows where their seafood is caught and can tell you about it.
If you live far away from a coastal area, your best bet is probably going to be frozen fish. Try to ensure it’s properly labelled with the species and the area it was caught, and if you can, find out whether it was filleted and frozen at sea, which will mean it’s still in good condition when you thaw and cook it.
If you can find somewhere to reliably buy fresh or snap-frozen, sustainably caught seafood, go and pick up a few fillets every so often, because I am not kidding when I say turning them into these fish parcels will save dinner on nights you might otherwise lean towards takeout.
How to make fish parcels
The lovely thing about this fish dinner is that it’s infinitely adaptable.
Today I’m giving you directions for a version using white fish, carrots, baby broccoli and beans, with an Asian-inspired miso and ginger dressing. Once you’ve mastered that, though, you can try it with all sorts of different vegetables and flavor combinations. Salmon on a bed of spinach and cherry tomatoes is lovely, dressed with lemon and herbs or a dot of garlic butter. Or you could give your fish an Indian flair by rubbing it with curry paste before cooking and adding a touch of coconut milk to each parcel.
The key is choosing fish that’s fairly thick, so it’s not overcooked by the time your vegetables steam underneath it. Here’s how you put your parcels together:
1. Lay out a large piece of foil or a doubled up thickness of parchment paper. Your wrapping needs to be large enough to easily fold and scrunch around your food, so don’t skimp on size.
2. Lay your longest-cooking vegetables on the bottom. In today’s case that’s going to be the carrots. Add the other vegetables on top in order of how long they take to cook.
3. Lay the fish and any seasonings over the top, then fold the parcel tightly together, add a touch of water and scrunch the edges to make sure it’s really well sealed.
That’s it! Then you just pop them into a hot oven while you make the dressing, and you’ll have dinner on the table in about 15 minutes! It’s your choice whether you serve the fish and vegetables with some rice or bread on the side to make dinner a little more substantial.
If you want to prep ahead, you can make the parcels in the morning and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. This easy fish dinner is ideal for nights when someone’s staying late at work, or kids have after school activities, because you just cook each person’s parcel as they’re ready to eat.
Miso ginger dressing for fish
The miso dressing for these fish parcels is very easy to put together, and the punchy, umami flavor of the miso paste mixed with the warmth and earthiness of fresh ginger is just the thing to elevate your dinner to something special.
With some fish parcel seasonings, you can add the seasoning directly into the parcel before cooking, but in this case I recommend you dress the food after cooking. The vinegar in this miso ginger dressing brings a nice freshness to your meal, but if you add it prior to cooking it can make the fish a little mushy textured.
If you haven’t bought miso paste before, you can find it in a lot of supermarkets or Asian grocery stores, or it’s readily available online. It’s made from fermented soy beans and rice, barley or other grains, and generally it’s sold in white, yellow or red varieties. White, which I’ve recommended today, is the mildest and sweetest type of miso. It’s not fermented for as long as the other varieties and is perfect for dressings and light sauces.
You don’t need a lot of miso paste for this dish, so you’re bound to have leftovers if you’ve bought a pack. Being a fermented product, it keeps well for ages in the fridge, and if you’re looking for other ways to use it up, it’s more versatile than you’d imagine. I add a spoonful to salad dressings, soups and casseroles to give depth and an umami hit. It’s also nice as a flavouring for a sheet pan dinner – rub over chicken pieces with a little oil, then scatter chopped vegetables over the top and bake everything until golden and the veg and chicken are cooked through.
Give this easy fish dinner a try one night, and I’m sure you’ll find lots of ways to adapt and make it your own so it becomes a regular dinner at your place just as it is at mine.
Happy cooking, see you here again soon.
Recipe: Easy Fish Dinner with Miso Ginger Dressing
The type of fish you use for this dish will depend on where you live. In Australia I use a locally caught snapper, but many types of fish including tilapia, pollock, haddock, cod, halibut, monkfish or salmon will work well – look for something that’s fairly firm fleshed and fairly thick, so it cooks in around the same time as the vegetables. I feel very strongly about using something that’s sustainably caught - if you aren’t sure what’s local and sustainable where you are, a good fishmonger will help you out.
I’ve noted steamed rice for serving below because it’s simple, but I’ve been on a crispy rice kick ever since I saw Smitten Kitchen’s crispy rice and egg bowls back in January this year, so that’s what you see in the photo. If you too want the toasty chewiness of crispy rice (who wouldn’t?), you’ll need brown rice that’s been steamed and cooled (use my guide to steamed rice if you aren’t sure of quantities and timing). Heat a frypan over medium heat with a generous splash of oil, then scatter your rice evenly into the pan and season with a little salt. Leave it to get all sizzly and crispy for 4-5 minutes (don’t be tempted to stir or move it around!), then turn it all over and let it crisp up on the other side before scooping onto plates for serving.
4 x 150g/5oz fish fillets (see headnote)
1 bunch baby carrots, scrubbed, halved if large
1 bunch broccolini or ½ head broccoli (if using broccoli, cut into small florets)
225g (1/2 lb) green beans, trimmed
2 spring onions/scallions, trimmed and thickly sliced
1 spring onion/scallion, extra, trimmed and finely sliced
A 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 tsp white miso paste
60ml (1/4 cup) rice wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar will do in a pinch)
2 tsp sesame oil
Steamed brown or white rice to serve (optional)
Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F.
Cut four large pieces of aluminum foil or parchment paper (if you’re using thin parchment, double it up).
Divide the vegetables and lay them in the center of each piece of foil/paper – carrots at the bottom, then broccolini, then the beans. Try to lay them fairly evenly.
Place the fish on top of the vegetables, then top each piece with the thickly sliced scallions. Season with a small amount of salt, then fold the foil/paper to make tightly sealed parcels. Just before you seal the parcels closed, add 2 tsp water to each one to help the food steam inside. If you’re using paper you may want to tie string around the outside to stop it unfolding.
Place the parcels onto a baking tray and cook for 15 minutes.
While the parcels are cooking, make the dressing. Mix together the extra scallions, ginger, miso paste, vinegar and sesame oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside until you’re ready to use.
When the parcels are done, place each one onto a serving plate with a scoop of rice (or crispy rice as noted above). I like to let everyone open their own parcel at the table, however you could open them before serving and carefully slide the contents onto each plate. Spoon over the dressing and eat immediately.
Steam Oven Method
Preheat steam oven to 100°C/212°F.
Place the vegetables onto a large stainless steel tray, in an even layer. Make 4 gaps between the vegetables, then place the pieces of fish in those gaps. Top each piece of fish with the thickly sliced scallions, then season everything with a small amount of salt.
Place the tray in the oven and cook for 10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and vegetables are just tender.
While the fish and vegetables cook, make the dressing. Mix together the extra scallions, ginger, miso paste, vinegar and sesame oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside until you’re ready to use.
When the fish and vegetables are done, serve immediately with steamed rice on the side (or crispy rice, as noted above) and the dressing spooned over the top.
Over to you – if you try this recipe I’d love to know about it! Share your comments below or on Facebook, tag @steamandbake on Instagram, or pin all your favourite Steam and Bake recipes over on Pinterest!
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