Lettuce, typically eaten raw as salad, is delicious as a cooked vegetable. Cooking fresh peas in Boston lettuce is a familiar use, but I also like to wrap fish in lettuce and bake it. This particular preparation made good use of the abundance of Boston lettuce from the CSA farm, the last snippets of sorrel from my garden and a bunch of leeks. The fish was a line caught halibut filet that I flipped over on itself so that I could stuff it with sorrel and leek. A more typical presentation would be a gutted, deboned and butterflied whole fish. I have also made single-serving bundles.
I learned this technique from Fish, a volume in the series of topical publications called the Time-Life Good Cook/Techniques and Recipes, edited by Richard Olney and published in the late 1970s and, early 1980s. I own a few volumes and scout out others in second hand bookstores. The first section of each book reviews a variety of techniques on the topic, in this case fish. The techniques are followed by a collection of recipes from sources worldwide, some well known and others seemingly obscure but always interesting. The recipes and techniques are not necessarily cross-referenced. I learned the lettuce wrap from the techniques section.
What’s wonderful about this dish is its finish. The stuffed and wrapped fish is baked on a bed of shallots or onions with white wine and a few dots of butter. It is finished with heavy cream. Olney cuts in cold butter at the end but I left that out. He serves the fish with sautéed cucumbers. I have also served it with baby carrots or here, with the rest of the braised leeks.
Baked Fish Wrapped in Lettuce with Leek-Sorrel Filling, adapted from Richard Olney, Fish, from the Good Cook series by Time-Life
Boston lettuce, outside leaves
¾ lb filet of white-fleshed fish (halibut, red snapper, sea bass, sole)
A handful of sorrel
Salt and pepper
Chopped shallots (or white onion)
Prepare the lettuce. Choose large tender outside leaves and remove them carefully from the head to keep them intact. Remove the stiff center ribs but making a V-shaped incision, and plunge the lettuce in boiling water for a second or two, removing to a bowl of cool water. Immediately remove from the water and spread on towels, flattening them, to dry them.
Prepare the filling. Split the leek lengthwise and clean it. Braise the leek “leaves” in salted water with a touch of butter or olive oil. Remove them to a towel and dry them thoroughly. Wash and quickly cook the sorrel in the water that clings to the leaves. Once cooled, squeeze out the excess moisture.
Stuff and wrap the filets.
Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lay the leeks and sorrel on the inside (non-skin side) of the fish, add a little salt and pepper, and turn the filet over on itself to create a bundle. Wrap the lettuce leaves around the fish, making sure all surfaces are covered (It’s alright to double up on the wrapping as needed.)
Butter a baking dish, strew chopped shallots on the bottom and place the wrapped fish on top. Pour white wine in the baking dish generously to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Dot a few small pieces of butter on the fish, cover with foil, and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes her inch of thickness, basting once or twice near the end of the cooking time. The fish I show here cooked in 15 minutes. Remove the fish to a plate and keep warm.
Pour the liquid left in the baking pan into a small saucepan and boil rapidly 3-5 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to a syrupy consistency. Add a little heavy cream and boil the liquid until it is the consistence of a light white sauce. (As an option, you can stir in cold butter, a little at a time, whisking to thicken the sauce.) Season to taste and pour over the fish.