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Fresh from the ocean…to a table near you: Rockfish en papillote

September 8, 2009

A view of Tillamook Bay at Garibaldi from Barview Jetty Park

A view of Tillamook Bay at Garibaldi from Barview Jetty Park

The one thing that I quickly learned from Oregon natives after moving here is you can’t let the weather deter you. The weather in Salem or Portland can be nice and sunny, but by the time you get to the coast an hour to the west it can be blustery and rainy. But you just have to be prepared. If the weather forecast says cloudy at the coast, chances are you’re going to get wet. So if you want to try your hand at surf or jetty fishing, you need to bring a rain coat, wear layers of sweats to keep warm, bring waterproof rainpants to wear on the outside of your jeans, and then pack an entire set of dry clothes and towels so that you can get warm after wrestling with the old man of the sea and mother nature. You also need sturdy footware, the kind that has good traction since you’ll be scampering about on rocks, and the type designed for getting wet. Timberland and other outdoor adventure footwear manufacturers make shoes called river waders that are like a cross between a hiking boot and a beach sandal. They’re perfect for surf or jetty fishing.

A view toward the ocean at Barview Jetty Park

A view toward the ocean at Barview Jetty Park

One of my favorite spots to fish along the coast is the jetty at Garibaldi. There’s also a jetty that you can fish from in Newport but it’s more popular and packed with people on weekends. A jetty is a man made structure that juts out into the ocean, creating a channel for a bay (created by a river) to empty into the ocean. It’s usually made of huge rocks, but you’ll also find jetties made from concrete rubble. The jetties are semi-porous on the outer edges, with gaps and holes in between the huge boulders. These gaps and holes create underwater passages where all sorts of marine life thrive, starfish, sea urchins, colonies of mussels, and fish love them.

The north jetty at Barview Jetty Park

The north jetty at Barview Jetty Park

On Sunday, I headed to Garibaldi, which is at the head of Tillamook Bay,  and armed with rain gear, fishing gear, and a bucket to keep my catch as well as the bait (in this case sand shrimp) I climbed down the rocks at the north jetty accessible at Barview Jetty Park. On this day, the winds were blustery and the ocean rough. I was the only one on the jetty fishing. There were other cars parked at the jetty…people just there to watch the old man of the sea hurl his fury at the rocks. They probably thought, this guy is really crazy. No wonder there’s a coast guard lookout tower on the jetty…just in case someone gets washed into the ocean or a boat goes down in the channel.

A friend of mine in the office, an old hand at surf fishing, gave me some pointers on surf fishing and fishing off jetties. It’s hard to tell when you have a bite, since the waves are tugging at your line. The trick is paying close attention. Waves come and go in cycles, and so you will feel a pull on the line whenever the water moves back toward the ocean after a wave crashes on the jetty. When a fish bites, it will be a pull on your rod that doesn’t fit this patter of tug and slack from wave action. And depending on what kind of fish you’ve hooked, it will either be a lite tug, or a yank. Fishing on this jetty, I’ve caught black rockfish (a yank on the rod), and cabezon and kelp greenling (both tugs on the rod). The first time Charles came fishing with me at Garibaldi, he hauled in a wolf eel. I don’t know if it was a tug or a yank on his rod, we were just both screaming at the creature once he hauled it ashore. It was the ugliest sea creature I’ve ever seen, although a cabezon is a close second. It had teeth so ferocious looking that I didn’t even bother to try to remove the hook with my needle nose pliers, I just cut the line. I did not want to get my gloved fingers anywhere near those teeth.

Cabezon, ugly little suckers but tasty

Cabezon, ugly little suckers but tasty

Dry and safe back at home, I’d clean my catch and prepare it for the freezer in Ziploc bags. Cabezon do not have scales. They’re slimy ugly suckers that will require you to fillet and skin them. Be brave and wear latex gloves and use a very sharp straight-edged knife, not a boning knife that is curved. Place the fish on its side, put the knife immediately behind its gill opening/side fin and cut down, stopping at the spine. Then turn the blade toward the tail and holding the fish by the head with one hand, pull the knife down the spine to the tail but stop just shy of the tail. flip the fillet meat back and the skin will still be attached to the tail now, hold onto the body of the fish close to the tail with one hand and run the knife as close as possible to the skin until you’ve completely freed the fillet from the skin. Then you repeat on the other side. The flesh of cabezon is very delicate, sweet and flaky when cooked. It’s best for baking.

Black rockfish, think red snapper...yummy

Black rockfish, think red snapper...yummy

Black rockfish have scales so you’ll want to gut the fish and then remove the scales by running a straight blade in short strokes from the tail towards the head and the scales will fly off the fish. If you have a deep sink in your laundry room this is the best place to scale fish as the scales will fly in every direction and the deep sides of the sink will help you contain the scales and keeping them from flying on your windows, counter tops, cabinets, window sills, floors. You name it, I’ve gotten scales on it. I think I’ve even gotten scales on my poor pooch Mikki, who is usually seated at my feet whenever I’m in the kitchen, waiting patiently for something edible to fall to the floor. Needless to say, after the first time I cleaned fish at the kitchen sink, I now ALWAYS clean fish in the laundry room sink. You can freeze black rockfish whole after you’ve scaled and gutted the fish. This is a firm-fleshed fish that’s similar to red snapper and it will stand up to being cooked whole: fried, rosted, whatever. You can also skin and fillet them if you prefer. But you should do it before you freeze it. You don’t want to thaw a whole fish and then try to fillet and skin it after thawing.

Kelp greenling

Kelp greenling

Kelp greenling also have scales. You won’t want to cook these guys whole, though. Better scale, fillet and skin. The flesh is very delicate, sweet and flaky.

All three fish freeze well in Ziploc bags.

One of my favorite things to do with all three fish is to bake them en papillote, a French technique of encasing meat or fish in parchment paper and baking. You’ll find that the fish stays really moist this way. Just ad aromatics like shallots, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper white wine or soy sauce, etc. Here’s one of my favorite recipes.

Oregon rockfish en papillote

Oregon rockfish en papillote

Oregon Rockfish with fennel, ginger and shallots en papillote

  1. 4 Rockfish fillets
  2. salt and pepper to taste
  3. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or pressed through a garlic press
  5. 1 tablepoon chopped cilantro
  6. a piece of ginger about an inch square, julienned (cut into thin strips)
  7. 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  8. 1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine)
  9. the juice of 2 oranges
  10. 1 shallot thinly sliced
  11. 1 medium fennel bulb very thinly sliced.

In a small measuring cup, mix soy sauce, orange juice, olive oil and mix well and set aside. For each fillet of fish, cut a piece of parchment paper into the shape of a heart by folding a square sheet of parchment paper in half and then cutting out half of a heart shape. Open up the heart and place the fish up against the fold on one of the halves of the heart, if your fillet is too big to be neatly contained in the parchment, cut the fillet in half and overlap the pieces. Spread a few slices of the fennel bulb, shallots and ginger atop the fish. Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle about a tablespoon or two of the liquid mixture over the fillets. Top with some chopped cilantro, then seal the parchment by folding the other half of the heart back over the fish. To seal, begin at the top of the heart, fold over a small piece and move to the right and fold over the previous fold so that it holds the first fold down, keep moving to the right, fold after fold until you’ve worked all the way around the heart to the tip and tuck the tip under the parchment.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the fish en papillote on a baking tray and then into the hot oven. The fish will cook in the sealed parchment and the liquids will be sealed in with the fish, infusing the fish the the flavors of the liquid and aromatic herbs. C’est magnifique.

After 15 minutes the fish will be cooked and ready to serve. Just place each parchment package on a dish and your dinner guests can slice open the wonderful package and enjoy!

Voila! Oregon rockfish en papillote

Voila! Oregon rockfish en papillote

For this dish, I’d recommend a slightly sweet white wine like an Oregon Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or Grüner Veltliner . Tonight we had Airlie Winery’s Seven, a blend of Müller Thurgau, Riesling, Pinot gris, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot blanc and muscat. A little piece of heaven from Oregon to you.


— Vic

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. SteveM permalink
    September 8, 2009 2:53 pm

    A fabulous presentation – and a great wine selection

  2. vpanichkul permalink*
    September 8, 2009 4:00 pm

    Thanks for bringing the wine Steve! And thanks for going wine tasting with me!

  3. Jenny permalink
    September 8, 2009 4:05 pm

    Oh, Vic, I’m sitting here reading your piece, hungry as all get-out and drooling like a dog. Yummy, Yummy, YUMMY!!
    And that’s just the photography! (teasing)
    You guys do such a good job. Thank you!!

  4. Elinor permalink
    September 9, 2009 2:01 am

    Wow, sounds like a very yummy dish. Sorry we didn’t stay longer to taste that one. I never cleaned ocean fish, although I caught and ate quite a few. My dismembering was limited to Largemouth Bass and Bluegill. Then I usually gave them to the cook at the cafe to fix. Nothing fancy, just plain fried yummy fish !

    • vpanichkul permalink*
      September 9, 2009 2:58 am

      It was very good. Steve even liked it! I’ll have to remember to cook it for you next summer. I’ll spend the winter fishing to stock the freezer!

      Elinor, I think you’d even like the wine Steve brought over. Airlie Vineyards 7, a blend of 7 white wines…on the sweet side.


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