At our annual Cape Cod family vacation, I am responsible for serving the annual Fish Dinner for 10-15 people (there is also the annual Steak Dinner and the annual Lobster & Ribs Dinner, hosted by my brothers-in-law along with, The-Night-Everyone-Arrives-Baked-Ziti-Dinner my now 90-year-old mother-in-law whips up.)
Let’s be clear. Cooking for a very large group in an ill-equipped ‘cottage’ kitchen and serving it as a sit-down dinner in a too-small dining room is NO VACATION. It’s actually a potential nightmare. But it’s what we do. Every year. And once dinner’s on the table, it’s a blast… Plus, my wine-collector brother-in-law brings a LOT of wine so that’s, um, great. (I make sure to finish with all knife skills before imbibing – that’s another story that ends at the hospital).
Anyway, we’ve been doing this for years, but last Thursday I faced a fish dinner crisis: the only feasible date was our last night at the Cape – and we had to pack up our rental house and be on the road by 7:30 the next morning. I tried for a fish dinner hiatus. No dice (a huge compliment yet also frustrating). So I agreed to with one condition: I would cook but I would NOT host 12 people in the rental house that we were in the midst of packing up.
Once that was swiftly agreed upon, I had to devise a dinner plan. Usually my goal is a new variation on fish everyone will like. This year, my goal was: how to cook a full dinner for 12 with very little clean up. Like, none. Else we’d never finish packing and get out on time.
The answer: I devised a menu that required NO pots. Thus no clean up, and no ferrying pots, pans and serving utensils to and fro.
Amazingly, it was a huge success – both the cooking and the quick clean-up… but also, the dinner itself. There were actual accolades! My mother-in-law declared it, “your best fish dinner ever,” and someone dubbed it, “totally gourmet.” There were no leftovers and literally, we had NOTHING to clean up – all we had to do was load the plates and cutlery into the dishwasher. Oh, and the very many wine glasses.
The trick: a dinner plan that relied on heavy duty aluminum foil on the grill, sequential cook times, and ‘sauces’ prepared in advance.
Here’s what I prepared:
- 2.5 pounds of Arctic Char and 1.5 pounds of Haddock that I prepped with olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs, slivered onions and halved cherry tomatoes: grilled in foil and served with two homemade sauces (really, dressings): Green Goddess and Mustard Vinaigrette. I thought folks would enjoy trying two very different types of fish, which they did. And surprisingly, my favorite, Arctic Char, was the big winner! (See Lo-Co Recipe page for other fish/Arctic Char recipes!)
- The fantastic “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious.
- Asparagus we grilled in the afternoon and served at room temperature.
Cooking fish in foil on a grill is dead-easy. All you do is place a fish fillet in foil (skin-side down, if it has skin), slick it both sides with olive oil, add salt and pepper and any fresh herbs you like (I used chives, thyme and rosemary). Atop that, squeeze some lemons and place some very thinly sliced lemon along with very thinly sliced onion and halved cherry tomatoes. The only truly ‘obligatory’ ingredient is olive oil and some lemon – but it makes a nice presentation with all these items! Then wrap it TIGHTLY in foil (I double wrapped it) and grill over medium-high or high heat for 10 minutes — longer if it’s a thick fillet. We needed 15-20 minutes for the 3 wrapped fillets. Take them off the grill and transfer to a serving platter – I removed the onion and lemon slices, but placed the tomatoes back on top for a pretty presentation. I like my fish plain but feared others would not, so I served the fish with choice of a Mustard Vinaigrette (David Tanis’ recipe on my Lo-Co Recipe page) and a Green Goddess dressing/dip mix from Penzey’s Spices that I had whipped up in minutes that morning.
The other element we needed to grill at my brother-in-law’s rental home was the phenomenal “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious. Read the recipe and reviews online, or recipe PDF is here and also on my Lo-Co Recipes page. These, my husband and I prepped in the afternoon, then brought over 11 packages all ready to go on the grill! While they’re meant to be served individually I just opened all 11 packages into a large serving bowl – either way is great. A few notes from my read of the reviews and my experience making this fabulous and fabulously easy recipe:
- I used baby red potatoes that I washed and left skins on – and cut into small pieces (like eighths!) so they’d cook quickly enough.
- Instead of white, I used red onions – again cut into very thin slices – about same size as potatoes.
- Use heavy duty foil – there’s a size that’s the right width the recipe calls for.
- Move the packets every 5-7 minutes or so – maybe 3 times for the 30 minutes – but don’t flip them – goal is to move so that no one spot gets too hot and burns.
- It’s very easy BUT takes time to cut the potatoes and onions – leave plenty of time for all the slicing!
- Even if you hate mustard, you won’t taste it here… and if you LOVE mustard, you need to increase the amount used.
The whole dinner took 1 hour to cook at my brother-in-law’s rental home (though a few hours to prep — and we did grill asparagus (see below for how) at home first and served it room temperature.)
Once we landed at my brother-in-law’s I prepped the fish while my husband grilled the potato packets. In the end, it looked like this:
- The fish fell apart, which doesn’t happen when you bake or cook fish directly on the grill. But it’s juicy and tender, and if you have enough wine, no one will notice.
- The potato & onion dish looked much more appealing than this photo; I’d had a few glasses of wine by then…
Hope you try! So easy and healthy and delicious – and no pots to wash!
To grill asparagus: soak for 10 minutes and snap off the tough bottoms, loosely dry, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and put right onto a medium-high grill for about 10-15 minutes, rolling them to grill evenly.