Men Bearing Gifts: Fish in a Packet

An encounter with a small fishing boat miles offshore fades from frightening to fruitful when the fishermen reveal a delectable item to trade. "People and Food" from our January 2011 issue.

Fish in a Packet

Lynda Morris Childress

The sun shimmied into the Pacific as we motored out of Huatulco, Mexico, into the infamous Golfo de Tehuantepec. Gale-force winds were predicted for the following night, but our young-cruiser math went something like this: When the wind hits 45 knots, our 32-foot Kendall, Gitane, making four knots with two 25-year-olds aboard, will be 20 miles past the gale's targeted path, which equals rough but doable conditions.

The fabled calm before the storm forced us to motor through the night, but by 0600, we'd cut the engine and sailed along at a glorious eight knots. We tossed our math out the porthole and rocketed through the gulf at record speed. We were relieved to be out of the path of danger—until we heard an outboard. A panga sped toward us. We were 100 miles offshore, with a faulty SSB and nothing in the way of weaponry. Our imaginations took hold. Despite nothing but positive interactions with fishermen along the way, we'd been listening to too much pirate-infested cruiser lore.

The panga approached. In halting Spanish we told them to stay several feet off our hull. Their intentions were revealed as several of the men grabbed hold of the gunwale.

"There's a bad storm coming at midnight!" they explained, faces furrowed with concern. We nearly fell to the deck with relief. "Si, si. Muchas gracias, señores!" we replied, feeling foolish for our initial distrust.

After a few more minutes of friendly chatting, the panga started back toward the invisible land. As we exchanged waves, one man's hand rose holding a small dorado. "Trade?" You betcha! I leaped down below for the most coveted of trades—a bottle of wine left over from San Diego. I scurried into the cockpit and held up our booty. Cheers erupted.

All the numbers seemed to be in our favor: 15 knots of wind on our beam, Gitane now sailing dozens of miles past the gale zone, millions of stars overhead, and one lemony dorado split between two very content sailors inching closer to Central America. This is how I prepared it.

Fish In A Packet
4 small potatoes, boiled and sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 scallions, minced
2 lemons, sliced thinly
1/2 pound asparagus or green beans,
cut into 2-inch lengths
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 6-ounce firm, white fish fillets, about
1 inch thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs
(thyme, basil, or tarragon)*
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup white wine
* Use 2 teaspoons with dried herbs.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut two rectangles of parchment paper or foil measuring about 12 by 20 inches. Fold each in half to make a crease, then unfold and lightly oil sheets. Place two rows of overlapping potato slices in middle of each sheet. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with scallions. Cover potatoes with a quarter of the lemon slices, then place fish on top. Surround with asparagus or green beans. (Partially steam these first unless you like your veggies very al dente.) Drizzle oil on fish and vegetables. Sprinkle with minced garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper. Top fish with remaining lemon slices. Line cherry tomato halves down center of fillet. Fold in sides of paper or foil to create a packet. Before folding up final side, pour 1/4 cup wine into each packet. Tightly seal and place on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes. Carefully transfer packets to plates and cut open top to reveal a complete meal inside. Serves two.