No mess. No fuss. No dishes! 1 And we’re not limited to the sausage and potato foil packets of yore; you can put JUST ABOUT ANY FOOD into a square of foil, fold it up, bake it, and eat it, and it will usually come out pretty damn tasty.
So we’re going Hobo Gourmet here. Tilapia, AKA cheap white fish. Broccoli. 2 Fresh spinach. 3 All of this, delicately baked to juicy, tender awesomeness, then swathed in a light lemon cream sauce that is really the hardest part of this meal, and it is still really easy.
How easy, you ask? I DIDN’T EVEN DEFROST THE FISH, B****ES. Or the broccoli. I didn’t cut anything; I tore up the fresh spinach with my hands. I threw frozen fish, frozen broccoli, torn spinach leaves, and a bit of butter into some squares of foil 4 and threw them in the oven at 350°F for 45 minutes.Then the hard part. The sauce. That’s what really brings this into Gourmet territory. That s*** takes time. Because somebody had to melt butter and mix in flour…… and mix in some cream a little at a time, and add some dill and some lemon juice…… and-
Oh, wait, it’s done. Damn. Is that really gourmet? It looks it. But it took like ten minutes. So you might even want to wait until you have your Tilapia Florentine Hobo Dinners out of the oven cooling before you whip up that sauce. No need to have it sitting around when you could be watching Alton Brown on Netflix. Or reading Andy Weir’s The Martian. 5 Or luvin’ your woman. You know, other stuff that you could be doing while supper’s in the oven.
Since the sauce really is the most involved thing here, I’ll throw in a few pointers for folks who maybe haven’t dealt with béchamel before. That’s what we’re making, a béchamel, which is just a milk or cream-based white sauce thickened with flour. The first thing you want to do is make a roux, which just means that you heat butter and flour in a pan and stir it so’s it doesn’t burn. This will ensure that each individual tiny powdery speck of flour is thoroughly coated with butter, so that when you mix in the cream, you don’t get flour sticking together in lumps. Lumps are bad. So you stir the roux (your butter/flour mixture) on about medium heat until it maybe turns a teensy bit golden. 6
Then comes the next potential pitfall. Mixing in the liquid (in this case, cream or half and half) can create lumps yet again if you do it wrong. What you do is, remove the pan from the heat, and add a little of the liquid. Maybe a tablespoon or two. No need to measure, just pour in a wee bit. Then mix the bejesus out of that stuff, maybe even with a whisk. You want to get that bit of liquid TOTALLY incorporated with the roux. When it looks like everything is uniform, add a bit more and do the same thing. It will get easier to add more and more, and finally you will have a totally smooth, totally lump-less sauce that you can pop back on the burner to heat up till bubbly.
There is yet a THIRD pitfall! This one involves adding the lemon juice. Acid makes milk curdle. This is really, really gross. 7 If you just dump all your lemon juice into your sauce all at once, it may very likely curdle and be totally inedible, unless you are used to eating things that other people say are totally inedible. 8 To avoid this, we do two things. First, we use half and half or cream, which emulsifies everything with extra fat and keeps it from breaking into curds. Second, we treat the lemon juice like we did the milk in the last step: add a little at a time, and completely incorporate it before adding any more.
This might all sound kind of complicated. But it really doesn’t take any more than ten, maybe fifteen minutes to make the sauce. And the sauce ups your game to the stratos, man. It makes it look like you actually know what you’re doing! And hell, if you make this sauce, which is really easy, you actually WILL know what you’re doing! Because cooking is easy.
Seriously, you’re a boss, you can cook this. Boom. Dinner. With plenty of time for snugglin’ with your lady afterwards.
-Josh is listening to Cocteau Twins
- 4 12" square of aluminum foil
- 1 lb tilapia (Four 1/4 lb filets), frozen
- 12 oz bag frozen broccoli
- 2 cups fresh spinach, roughly torn by hand
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 tsp flour
- 1/2 tsp dried dill
- 1 1/2 cup half and half or cream
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1/8 tsp salt
- cracked pepper
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- On each foil square, place a quarter of the spinach, a quarter of the frozen broccoli, and one frozen tilapia filet. Divide the butter and the salt amongst the packs. No need to be precise here, just throw everything in the packs together, no real order necessary.
- Pinch the packs closed, with the seam facing up so that liquid won't drip out. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove and let cool for ten minutes.
- While the packets are cooling, make the sauce. In a saucepan over medium heat, mix the butter and flour, scraping the bottom and stirring constantly until the mixture is just slightly golden. This shouldn't take more than five minutes or so.
- Remove the pan from heat and mix in the dill, then whisk in the half and half a little at a time.
- Return to heat and stir till bubbly.
- Remove from heat and add the salt, then whisk in the lemon juice a little at a time. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
- Empty the foil packets onto plates and serve with the sauce.
- Well, I made a sauce, so there’s one dish, but seriously, this is easier than speed-dialing Pizza Shack, guys. ↩
- That was frozen. Because we’re lazy and don’t feel like cutting up broccoli. ↩
- That’s what makes it Florentine! Sounds fancy, right? All Florentine really means is that it has spinach. ↩
- Make sure the seam is on the top so’s they don’t exude their fishy juices all over your oven. ↩
- Which you finally got from the library! Eeeeeeeeee!! ↩
- If you were making a gumbo or some such you might cook it until it gets really dark, but that’s a whole different flavor profile. We’re going for very light, very delicate, very refined, and that means you don’t have to cook the roux for very long at all! Maybe five minutes. ↩
- Except in the case of cheese making, in which case it is awesome. ↩
- In that case, go for it. Lemon dump. ↩