Dinner Diaries                                   December 20, 1986


This is getting closer to ‘right’ menu-wise.  Maybe, a very light cheese on the fettucini and the asparagus with a little olive oil/butter/lemon juice rather than a hollandaise sauce.  But hey, that’s hindsight.  What did we have for dessert?  Bonnie and I shared a lot of meals with Chris and Mark.  Chris, was a good cook and never hesitated, as a few folks do, to cook us dinner.  Mark and I worked together as Architects a long, long time ago. 

The Bluefish in Papilotte – kinda’ easy and a great dinner.  And for those of you out there that don’t like Bluefish because, “it’s too fishy”, go eat Tilapia.  Tilapia doesn’t taste TOO FISHY.  As a matter of taste it doesn’t taste TOO much of anything.  Many of you love it; I will pray for your salvation.  You could be eating air and it would taste the same (that statement does not refer to the scent at various exits on the New Jersey Turnpike).  Why on earth would you eat something that had no flavor?  Really, someone explain this to me, please.   

I would rather you eat farm raised salmon than Tilapia – not really, but I’m trying to put Tilapia in perspective.  At least the salmon has some flavor – even if farm-raised salmon is artificially colored.  Really, artificially colored.  Not too long ago I had a hankering for fish for dinner, but couldn’t get to Nassau Street Seafood.  So, I picked up what looked to be an OK salmon fillet from the local grocery store.  The label on the paper that wrapped the fish gave the weight and price and also the phrase ‘artificially colored’.  I turned to the fish counter person and said, “This salmon is artificially colored?”  They replied, “Yes, but it’s OK because it’s colored with beta-carotene.”  I gave the farm-raised salmon back and went looking for something else to cook for dinner.  I don’t care what the food is colored with.  If you’ve got to add color to my food to make it look edible, interesting or like something that it’s not then I’m not interested.  Save your pennies, because in some cases it does cost more than the fake stuff, and buy food that’s ‘real’.

Two Old Friends Reunite

In several of the Dinner Diary entries, including the one above, Bluefish en Papillote Nicoise is the entrée.  My recollection of this dish is that it was very good; easy to make, nice presentation and good flavors.  It had been a long time since I’d last made this dish.  I wondered if it was as good as I remembered or if I was remembering it viewed through an empty glass of wine, or two.  In making this recipe I had the same trepidations that I would have in reconnecting with someone who had once been your best friend, but whom you hadn’t seen or been in contact with for several years.  WOULD THEY STILL LIKE ME?  WOULD I STILL LIKE THEM?  Would this bluefish dish be as easy to make as I remembered?  Would the memory of a nice presentation remain true after all those years?  Would it be as flavorful as my taste buds remembered?  Only one way to find out – make the dish again.  And so I did.  

My friend, Bluefish en Papillote Nicoise, and I gave each other a big hug, there were a few joyous tears and we began talking.  The reconnection was so complete and instantaneous that it was as if we had last seen each other but yesterday.  This is an easy, good-presentation, flavorful dish.  The recipe and my notes are shown below. 

  Bluefish En Papillote Nicoise                                  Bon Appetit, June 1983 

For a delicious summertime variation use foil for the papillotes and grill the packets on the barbecue. 

6 servings 


2 tablespoons (1/4 stick butter)

1 ½ pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 large clove garlic crushed and minced

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

Salt and freshly ground black pepper 

2 pounds 6 ounces of bluefish, boned, belly trimmed and discarded and fish divided into six, 6-ounce portions

6 anchovy fillets (optional)

Garnish – lemon slices and flat leaf parsley 


–         Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over high heat.

–         Add tomatoes and cook until liquid evaporates and tomatoes thicken into a sauce like consistency, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently; tomatoes should measure about ¾ cup.  Pour tomatoes onto plate and cool completely. 

–         Cream ½ cup butter in a large bowl until fluffy.  Gradually beat in tomatoes.  Stir in basil, garlic and lemon peel.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Divided tomato butter into 6 equal portions (can be prepared 1 day ahead and refrigerated).

–         Fold 15 inch wide piece of parchment or foil in half.  Trace half-heart shape (or a circle) starting at the folded end; heart should be 11 ½ inches long and 8 inches wide at the widest part.  Cut out the heart.  Repeat 5 more times and unfold the hearts.  Oil inside of each leaving a 1 inch border all the way around.  Center one portion of fish on one side of the heart.  Top with one portion of tomato butter, then 1 anchovy.  Fold other side over top and seal edges tightly (use a paperclip if necessary).  Papillotes can be prepared 6 hours ahead to this point and refrigerated. 

–         Preheat oven to 400°F.  Arrange papillotes on 2 baking sheets.  Bake 15 minutes.  Switch pans to opposite oven racks and continue baking 10 minutes.

–         Remove bluefish and tomato butter sauce and garnish.  Serve immediately.  Guest may wish to remove their serving from the parchment – it adds drama.

 Dave’s Notes 

–         This is an easy recipe.  When you break it down what you’re doing is making seasoned tomato butter, putting the bluefish with the tomato butter and anchovy in parchment, the fish will be steamed as it cooks in the oven and as it cooks it will absorb the tomato butter/anchovy flavors.  That’s it.  However, the presentation is above the every day.

–         If you’re doing this on the grill you need to use aluminum foil or risk the papilotte catching on fire.  As interesting as that vision may be it will not produce dinner.  Always use the parchment in the oven – it looks nice.  You can also seal the parchment edges by brushing them with a beaten egg – looks much nicer than a paper clip.

–         I hate the thought of discarding the belly fat and skin (lessons learned from Chef Barry).  I’d suggest sautéing in a pan until really crisped, chop them, add them to cream fraiche, thinned with just a bit of cream and seasoned with chopped scallions and a bit of anchovy.

–         In my opinion the anchovies are not optional.  They add a distinct layer of flavor.  Try to get the anchovy packed in brine (Lucy’s Ravioli) rather than those horrid things that they sell in the super market.

–         If you drain the tomatoes before cooking them with the butter you can reserve the liquid and use it to thin the crème fraiche dip, rather than thinning with cream, add it to stock or broth or just mix it with a shot of good vodka and throw it down.  Additionally, the tomatoes will thicken up more quickly.

–         This is nice tomato butter.  You can use it to season crostini, as a butter to pan sauté various foods, mixed with that old crème fraiche or mascarpone for a dip or use it on the table as a seasoned butter.  Season it as you will.  Just makes sure that it all makes sense and taste, taste and taste again as you’re making it.

The Bluefish en Papillote Hot from the Oven


Cut off one of the tips of the parchment and slit the bag up the middle.

Lots of juices and don’t disturb the tomato when you slit the parchment.

Bluefish en Papillote Nicoise

Campanelle with herbs and green peppers

Avocado and Clementine with cumin-honey vinaigrette  


I’ll probably get sued by Bon Appetit for using this recipe without permission.  However, long ago a very wise man taught me that it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.  I looked on the Epicurean web-site and they no longer have this recipe.  My defense in court will be that they don’t care about it.

The article from the June 1983 issue is titled, ‘Easy Seafood Favorites’.  This particular article contained recipes from Odette Bery who, at the time, owned a restaurant on Beacon Hill in Boston named ‘Another Season’.  I don’t believe that the restaurant is still around.  However, her cookbook, ‘Another Season Cookbook’ is still available.  If the cookbook contains recipes the likes of which are in the Bon Appetit article it may well be worth picking up.  Other recipes contained in the article were: Cod Caribbean, Sole Quenelles with Shrimp and Paprika Beurre Blanc, Squid Verde and Trout Verona.  I regret that I’ve never met Odette and I regret that I never had the pleasure of a meal at ‘Another Season’.  But we’ll always have Bluefish en Papillote Nicoise.

Looking at many of the recipes that I used in the 1980’s I think that period of time was one of our countrys culinary highpoints.  Yes, I think that our current culinary period has raised the bar again, but the 1980’s were a time of a lot of experimentation.  Cooks began to use new ingredients, think about combinations of foodstuffs in different ways and come up with brand spanking new dishes at an ever increasing pace.  No, not all of it worked, but nothing was out of bounds, you at least gave it a shot and that’s the way to learn.  The cake on the cover of the June 1983 edition of Bon Appetit being one example of, in my opinion, a dish that didn’t work.  Maybe it just looked like it didn’t work.  If it’s me tell me, but I think that’s one God ugly cake.  Maybe it has phenomenal flavor.  I mean I’ve been wrong about things before; my first wife, watery tomato sauce and several inedible dishes that I made.


Dinner Diary                                                     January 2, 1987


Another menu indicating restraint!  Why?  Does it offer proof that I was not compelled by my insecurity to provide WAY TOO MUCH FOOD in every instance?  Restraint be damned! 

OK, the cheese and crackers are on the boring side and what the hell is carrots and potatoes?  Nowadays I’d make it into sort of a “hash”.  Carrots, potatoes, shallots, maybe some celery or better yet, celery root (we’ll get to my root vegetable gratins that I was making WAY before anyone else).  I love cooking venison.  Nicely braised in this case, just don’t cook it too long.  I often season venison with juniper berries.  The shallots, mushrooms and watercress are a nice stuffing.  I, myself, don’t hunt.  I see absolutely nothing wrong with it but I just never got around to doing it.  I am absolutely certain that we have to hunt deer simply because there are too many of them if for no other reason, though it’s certainly a better situation to kill for the food rather than killing simply because of overabundance and to correct an “error”.   Another instance of where we screwed it up by eliminating the predators and providing them with perfect places to live (we’ve had fawns “parked” under our decks at the house).  So, if you’re hunting for food God bless ya and give me a call.

The “La Poire Daphne”, as I recall, is a chocolate coated poached pear.  The cored center of the pear “hiding” a seasoned whipped cream or a sweetened and seasoned mascarpone.  Very nice.   I’ll have to revisit that recipe. 

Mark and Barbara are friends of ours and were often dinner partners before they moved far away.  Mark liked to cook, not as much as I do, but he was a good cook and I always enjoyed his meals. Barbara a friend of Bonnie’s from library days past.  Barbara, who worked for a short time in an upscale food store.  I remember her telling me that she was appalled, grossed out, by the fact that the salads were literally ‘hand tossed’.  Gloves on, hands deep in the salad, tossing it.  I remember thinking then that you should never be afraid to touch food with your hands.  Your going to ingest it and you don’t want to touch it with your hands?  Sometimes hands are the best kitchen tool around.   

Old friends sometimes move on.  New friends enter the picture.  The cooking and the Dinner Diaries continue.  It’s always nice to have a few constants.


If you cook enough you get to the point where you don’t use recipes or cookbooks for many of the dishes that you cook.  The venison is a one of those dishes.  Though this was a leg, which I truly enjoy, a loin cut would work too.  Slice the loin properly and you can stuff it; make it and roll it like a jelly roll.  Sear it in a good heavy pan with a cover, add the wine, cover and cook it until the juices are still bloody.  If ya ain’t got some blood flowing when you cook venison, or any other meat, it’s over done.  Believe me I know.  This is maybe 10 minutes or less to sear it and another 10 or 20 minutes in the covered pan with the heat low.  Those times?  Depends on the size of the meat.  Could be less.  Take the meat out, keep it warm and deglaze the pan with some more wine.  Make a sauce or just reduce it and use as is.  I’ve got to get me a hunting license. 

“La Poire Daphne”  Hmmmmm.  I wonder where that issue of Bon Appetit is?

Next Week:  The Cassoulet Dinner Diaries and Ground Hog Juice 


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