Even if you don’t give a fig what David Chang thinks, perfect produce can sometimes take the joy out of cooking, as it’s hard to admit you can’t improve on nature. You want to serve something fancier than a fruit plate, but you still want to highlight local ingredients – and avoid any recipes requiring a sous-vide cooker or a pound of butter. So what’s a conscientious but creative cook to do?
Leave it to leaves. When wrapped around fish and baked in a bath of white wine, fig leaves keep fish moist and impart an uncannily coconutty flavor, packing a punch without a lot of labor. Middle Eastern cultures have been using similar techniques for ages, and an average tree will provide enough leaves to cover both your fish and, should you happen to sin against the Lord, your nakedness. If you don’t have access to a fig tree, you can check with a local nursery or at farmer’s markets (or just ask a friendly fig farmer if they can bring some leaves to the next market). Make sure any leaves you use are washed and haven’t been sprayed with pesticides.
The procedure couldn’t be simpler: place your fish filets (halibut and salmon work well) in the middle of a fig leaf (or two if they’re small), brush with oil, fold up the sides, and secure with a toothpick or cooking twine. Douse with wine and/or water, and bake till the fish is flaky. You can let dinner guests unwrap their packages themselves, or for less mess, serve the fish out of leaf: your guests will still be transported by the delicate aroma and buttery texture, and they won’t believe you haven’t been cracking coconuts all day. For dessert, use more leaves to wrap some late-summer stone fruit and grill. Or, if you’re out of leaves, you can’t go wrong with fresh figs on a plate!
Photo credit: Katie Kadue