Al cartoccio in Italian is the culinary term for cooked in a paper parcel or a paper bag and versions of this dish are cooked all over Italy. You may also have eaten pasta al catoccio and in fact, recently in a restaurant in Melbourne I ate a version of pasta made with braised mushroom.
Last time I was in Sicily I ate Fish in a bag in a restaurant in Sciacca (south west coast). They had added a little seawater and a few prawns and mussels to their version (see photo below); I have used black olives instead.
Traditionally the fish was wrapped in strong parchment-like paper, but metal foil has reached Italy and Sicily and has replaced the paper. I like to use foil, but I line the package with some baking paper – this prevents sticking and provides greater insulation. Adding seawater has been a common practice when cooking fish dishes and the restaurant called their version pesce in acqua di mare (fish cooked in seawater). If you live close to the sea, 1 tablespoon of seawater is sufficient.
Every time I have eaten this dish in a restaurant in Italy, the parcel was presented at the table and pierced by the waiter; he then separated the fish into fillets and served it on my plate.
I have used a whole Yellowtail Kingfish for this recipe and it was sufficient for two people.
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt or (1 tablespoon of seawater)
flat leaf parsley or fresh basil or oregano to taste
garlic, 1-3 cloves, sliced
black olives (good quality), to taste
cherry tomatoes, 4-5 per fish
Preheat the oven to 220 C.
Clean the fish: scale, gut and wipe dry. Use a sharp knife to make shallow cuts in the outside of a whole fish – slash the fish but leave whole.
Use strong foil large enough to wrap the fish like a parcel. Place a piece of baking paper on the foil and the fish on the centre (with a little oil underneath)
Add other ingredients.
Fold the edges of the foil together tightly to make a neat package with an airtight seal.
My fish weighed just below 1 kilo and I cooked it for 25 mins.
The easiest way to see if it is cooked, is to check it after this time and cook it longer if necessary. Once you take it out of the oven, remember that the residual heat in the fish will cause it to keep on cooking, either keep it sealed if you wish it to go on cooking, or make a hole in the parcel to allow some of the heat and steam to escape.
Serve the fish with the juices from the package. At the time of serving it, I added a drizzle of my best, extra virgin olive oil to make it more aromatic.