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RBR Tailgaiting: White Fish en Papillote

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Settling a score, hopefully in a rudely lopsided manner.

I have animosity towards The Citadel. I respect the military tradition and all the other stuff I’m supposed to say to avoid comment and Twitter recriminations, but…

The year is 1987. I’ve just made the Jefferson County district soccer team. We are gearing up for our first game against the Mississippi Under 15 State team. On paper it’s a huge mismatch; a whole state full of all-stars vs a county. But we were full of ourselves and ready to give ‘em hell.

I was an early developer athletically. At the age of twelve I could take over a soccer game. That didn’t last. The thing is that I never got better and by the time I was eighteen I was the slow defender who relied on off-sides traps. I became completely inconsequential. But in 1987 I was at the height of my powers. My league team allowed a single shot against us that season. As the central defender I was asked to try out for the first step toward the state team.

Fast forward a bit. I made the district team and the coach calls us all together to give the starting lineup. I’m paraphrasing, but he said something to the effect of “Todd (name changed to protect the guilty), center fullback. Ben right full, and keep it wide. Don’t drift to the middle.” It wasn’t yet the colloquialism the internet has built it into, but my reaction was the mid to late eighties equivalent of “WTF?” The coach told me he wanted me on the team to run his defense. Who was this Todd guy and how was I not the center defensive back?

As it turned out, Todd was a stout as hell defender. I kept the right side safe, but who couldn’t. Wing full back is all pushing and sliding and positioning and anybody can pull that off. Our little county beat the crap out of the state of Mississippi because Todd was astonishing. He gave them no time, no pause, in the middle. It was brutal. I want to say the final score was three to zip, but there are years between memory and fact. I know they didn’t score on us, and it wasn’t because I shoved their wings and left halves around (which I did.) Todd was the game.

Shortly after that match I got a Theismann style break of my right leg and never quite recovered. Slide tackles giveth and slide tackles taketh away.

My high school played Todd’s every year after and while I was proud of the way we pressed and challenged, his defense was always slightly better.

The worst thing about him is that he’s a good guy. He married a friend of mine and they are pillars of the community, etc. Funny people, too. We aren’t call-and-get-together friends so much as when we run into each other we lose track of time talking, but sometimes running into such folks make for the best evenings.

The thing is that this particular Todd, again not his real name, who stole my lead role in the defense, went on to play center fullback for The Citadel and from what I heard, he was a three year starter. If there is justice in any pliable sense that bends justice to my ends rather than the ends of actual justice, we will hang seventy on them tomorrow just so I can make a mocking phone call. Right fullback my ass.

Today’s recipe is a fix. It’s messy and often wasteful grilling white fish. Tuna, Sword, and whole fish of any type are marvelous on the grill, but white fish fillets success come down to either a brilliant spatula game and a tremendous amount of luck or dispiriting loss as that succulent flesh flakes and falls into the flames. We gonna wrap it up.

White Fish en Papillote

- 1 fillet of white fish, 5 to 6 ounces per person

- shallots, sliced

- cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

- kalamata olives, halved

- garlic, minced

- lemon, sliced into rounds

- thyme

- unsalted butter

- dry white wine

- salt to taste

Going by a strict translation, this is not actually en papillote so much as it’s en Publix’s generic brand aluminum foil. In the French tradition of en papillote, the food is sealed in parchment paper, folded under itself and the tucked as like a calzone and set to blister in the oven. That would be a tailgating open flame grill disaster. Foil does the same job and saves you the fire suppressant.

I cooked the following in the oven because it was raining lions and wolves outside, but this method works with any grill that can be covered to create a makeshift oven. I set my oven at 400˚F and cooked for 15 minutes, but the uncertainties of coals and the varying thickness of whatever piece of fish you got a hold of are going to make you use that clever noggin I’ve come to respect so much. Here’s the outline. Adapt it to your situation and you will not be displeased.

Put all of that stuff I listed above, minus the wine, on half of a piece of foil big enough to wrap around like a sleeping bag and snort a satisfied snort. Provided you liberally salted the fish you’ve set yourself up for rousing success.

Fold the edges tightly leaving one end open.

It’s tempting to do this all ahead of time, pack it in a cooler, hop in the car, and toss it all on the grill when you get to your nearest squat in the shadow of Bryant Denny.

Don’t do that. Salting the fish should be done at the last minute or it will turn rubbery. Pack everything in separate but ready to go zip lock bags and assemble the packs on site. You’ll get raw fish hands, but antibacterial hand lotions are everywhere these days. I saw one online that was called “Maybe You Touched Your Genitals.” I may or may not have given that as a Christmas present.

Pour a little wine into the open side, just a sip or two.

Seal the final end.

Add to heat.

Once done, just peel open and be amazed.

This isn’t so much upping your grill game as expanding it in my opinion. But I do know a certain Citadel grad specifically not named Todd who holds specific and indefensible opinions on how to run an off sides trap and cooking what he seems to think is fresh fish. Seriously, he acts like if it wasn’t caught that day it’s rotted and hoary. Not true.

Make this dish and revel in it. Run up the score. Give me ammunition for my phone call.

Enjoy, no injuries, and Roll Tide.