A week and a half ago while out camping with the family we started off the weekend with one of our variety of tinfoil meals and it was a huge hit. So much so that it prompted my not-so-great-in-the-kitchen father to ask for some one on one cooking lessons. The shock and initial chaos surrounding his recent divorce is starting to wear off and he’s learning the hard way (at fifty-plus) how to cope for himself without the
helping hand of complete reliance on a woman around to do the “home-maker” stuff.
It’s no wonder that this particular all in one meal sparked an interest. It’s tasty, it’s easy to prepare, has endless options to change to flavor and texture preferences, can be made single serve or for a crowd and can be cooked in the oven, on the grill or like we tried for the first time while camping over an open fire.
While I offered to teach him something that was a little more of a staple in the home, this was the meal he wanted to try his hand at first. So this past Sunday he came over to help me cook dinner. Unfortunately his brain isn’t so much like a sponge it’s more a ‘panic cause I forget’ and he doesn’t trust the damn thing to remember what he’s learnt so off to putting together the recipe and instructions I go. I figured why go through all the trouble just for his sake, might as well share it with the world right?
The two best things about this tinfoil fish fillet meal are that everything needed for a single serving is stuffed into one package. In similar style to a ‘hobo dinner’ as some call it,there is no dishing out, no mass amount of diner-wear taking up table space (or leftover fridge space) and you can cater to each individuals taste (no mushrooms in mine thanks!). The other is all the prep work can be done way in advance, its a great meal to bring to a barbecue, camping or just to prepare the night before a busy day when there’ll only be 20 minutes to blast through supper. Speaking from experience, there’s only so many times hot dogs and chips, or a couple boxes of KD can be done when in a time crunch without everyone getting really sick of it.
It’s not often you get delicious, fast and healthy all in one meal but I guarantee this right here, is one of those rare times!
Ingredients (for 8-10 packages aprox. depending on type of fish used**):
- 1 kg frozen (thawed) or fresh fish fillets (pictured above is cod, we’ve used basa, tilapia, salmon, sole and trout at one point or another)
- 2-3 large carrots
- 1 large red onion
- 2 cups snap peas
- 1 red pepper
- 1 green pepper
- 2 medium or 1 large zucchini
- 3-4 heads of baby bok choy
- 6 cloves garlic
- 5 tsp butter or margerine
- 1 tsp paprika
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 4-5 sprigs of fresh basil (leaves separated but left whole)
- olive oil cooking spray
- OPTIONAL – 4-6 cups pre-cooked rice (I use a home made onion rice mix now with mine, another recipe I have to share!)
First things first is unpackage, wash and let air dry the fish fillets. Then count em up. For larger fillets, one per package is more than enough, if using something smaller like sole or cod 2 per package make a great adult portion. Using heavy duty aluminum foil, make an equal amount of large rectangles to servings of fish and lay them out on your work surface.
Next up, it’s time to cut the vegetables. similar to stirfry fashion, not too big and not too small slices work great. You want them small and thin enough to cook evenly in a short time but still big enough to keep their unique flavors and not become too mushy or difficult to pick up with a fork. As well as finely chop the garlic (no one wants a mouthful of a whole clove).
Now you’re ready to build your packets. Start by lightly spraying the middle surface of each foil piece and then lightly sprinkling with salt and pepper. Next layer the vegetables on top. Think of it like creating a nice bed for the filet to rest on, you want a large enough surface area but you still want to be able to wrap the foil all the way around everything by the end. Start with the vegetables that will take the LONGEST to cook through. I usually do carrot, snap peas, zucchini, onion, pepper (I like when they don’t get too soft), bok choy. If you substitute or add any others (mushrooms, cellery, kale, tomato etc. really the options are endless) use your judgement where they’d fit in or do a little google on cooking times.
It’s time to add the garlic, a sprinkle of paprika and about 1/2 tsp of butter or margarine to each package. At this point you would also add the optional pre-cooked rice. This was never in our original recipe, back in the day we were sticking with a few lower carbohydrate meals a week and this meal works perfect as is for that. It truly doesn’t feel like you’re missing anything if you leave it out and are trying to lose weight or simply avoiding certain foods like grains. However if some carbs along with your meat and veg is a must or you want the extra energy and flavor it is a wonderful addition. Its a great way to use leftover rice from a previous meal, you can use a home made flavored rice (like I do) or a packaged rice like Uncle Ben’s has. about 1/2 cup cooked rice serving per package lumped on top f the vegetables.
Now that the ‘bed’s’ made its time to add the fillets. The important thing is to make sure they stay right on top, even when the packets get closed. It sometimes takes some finagling to get them to stay up there, but its worth it to prevent overcooking the flesh or having it stick to the foil. Top with a couple fresh basil leaves, more salt and pepper to taste if you like and another layer of cooking spray.
When you’ve got your little pile of ingredients all ready on your foil it’s time to close em up. This really is the only hard part (especially if like me you try to skimp out on the foil used and end up with too much vegetable and not enough aluminum to cover it). I start by grabbing two of the long ends and pressing them together in the middle above the fillet and then rolling them tightly (like closing a brown paper bag lunch) making sure not to make them too loose. You want the foil to sit closely to the food, that oil spray will help prevent anything from sticking. Then taking the ends and folding them in tightly so that everything is covered and sealed. You want all that moisture trapped in there.
That’s it for prep. It looks like a lot of work…. but that’s just me blabbering on in as much detail as I can. It really isn’t difficult and apart from taking your time chopping to not snip a finger off, it doesn’t take much time either. Now you can go ahead and start cooking or you can store them in your fridge or cooler overnight to be cooked the next day.
When ready, choose your heat source. No matter what you choose you want your temperature to be at or around 400 degrees F. In the oven we tend to hit 425 just because the heat source isn’t as direct baking on the top shelf. Placing the foil packages BOTTOM SIDE DOWN FIRST cook/bake/grill for 7-10 minutes depending on size of package and thickness of fillets. Its important to cook the vegetable side first so that those harder veggies can have ample time to soften and so that the fish gets a wonderful steam cook that enhances it’s flavor and make sure you don’t end up with half burnt half raw fillets. Flip and finish cooking for another 7-10 minutes.
Remove from heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes or until outer foil is cool enough to touch and carefully open them from the center. Again CAREFUL the steam trapped in those suckers is hot and it can hurt. It’s time to serve! Either transfer to plates or heck eat it right out of the tinfoil (great for easy clean up at the camp site).
** Note – this recipe can be scaled up or down depending on servings. As a large family who love leftovers we always cook a whole package of frozen fish at once but it is just as easy to take out one or two fillets to thaw (or buy single fresh fillets) and make a package for one or two.
So there you have it. Our tinfoil fish fillet recipe. Not exactly what I was planning on writing about today, but take it or leave it! I’m off to email this sucker to my Dad and wash the dishes because last night we DIDN’T have a tinfoil meal and there are tons of em!