Susanna’s Baked White Fish Fillets with Orange Juice, Sweet Wine, and Bay Leaf

Susanna’s Baked White Fish Fillets with Orange Juice, Sweet Wine, and Bay Leaf

by Dr. Susanna Hoffman

January is  when the year’s crop of sweet, juicy oranges begin to arrive in markets. After many months from blossom, to bud, to fruit, they have now ripened on the trees of California and Florida, been plucked and crated, and delivered to stores awaiting their annual appearance.  Oranges are a major crop in the United States. Spanish settlers brought them to America in the 1500s, having acquired them only a century or so earlier from the Arabs. The Arabs in turn had transported them from Southeast Asia to then disperse them on their forays about the Mediterranean. Oranges gave the farmers and cooks of Spain and elsewhere a new taste treat to play with. Soon they developed many types, the Seville and the Valencia among them, and added orange to many of their culinary delights. Following that tradition is an unusual, but stirring preparation for fish, incorporating both orange and Mediterranean-style sweet wine, with a touch of ancient, woody bay leaf.

(Serves 6)

2 to 2-1/2 pounds white fish fillets or steaks, such as halibut, cod, or swordfish cut in 4 inch pieces
Fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts trimmed, well rinsed, and cut into 2-inch long shreds
1/3 thinly julienned strips of orange peel, about 1-inch long 
1/3 cup Valencia, Seville, or blood orange juice, see note    
½ cup light port wine
1 large or 2 small bay leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons chipped fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the fish pieces on a plate that is large enough to hold them in one layer and sprinkle them liberally on both sides with lemon juice and salt. Cover and set in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

2. When you are ready to cook the fish, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Transfer the fish to a large non-reactive baking dish and set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a medium-size nonreracive skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and orange strips and stir until slightly wilted, 1 minute.

4. Stir in the orange juice, wine, and bay leave and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat until the leeks and orange strips are well wilted, 2 minutes. Pour the sauce over the fish, spreading the leeks and orange out evenly.

5. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the liquid is bubbling and the fish flakes easily when pierced with a fork, 15 minutes. Sprinkle the chives and some pepper over the top and serve right away.

For the most intense flavor, the best juice to use is from one of the more bitter varieties of orange, such as Seville, followed by blood orange, then the more sweet, but still vivid Valencia. Seville and blood oranges are available only for a short season, but Valencia oranges, the main juicing sort, are almost always at hand. Navel orange juice is too mild.  
The occasional times they appear in markets (even in Telluride), sliced kumquat can replace the orange strips for special added spark and looks.

Wine recommendation: Boutari Moschofilero, available at Pacific Street Liquors

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