SERVES 4: We quickly blanch jarred grape leaves so they are easier to roll around the fish and are softer to eat.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Wrapping fish in grape leaves is a thoroughly Mediterranean cooking technique; the leaves form a protective packet around either fillets or whole fish, holding the fish together and insulating it during grilling, baking, or broiling. In some preparations the leaves are not meant to be eaten, but we wanted the leaves in our rustic dish to be both utilitarian and delicious. Starting with the fish, we chose grouper for its firm, mild flesh and let it sit in a briny and fragrant caper and lemon zest marinade while we assembled the grape leaf packets. We found brined grape leaves straight out of the jar to be unpleasantly thick and chewy; blanching the leaves briefly got us the soft texture we wanted. Then we looked to simplify: Most recipes call for the leaves to be individually patted dry, and with 24 leaves in this recipe, that was a time-consuming endeavor. We wondered if we could skip that step and use the extra moisture to provide a steamy cooking environment for the fish; the fish did indeed benefit from the wet leaves. We cooked the fish and let it rest briefly on a wire rack set in a baking sheet, allowing any excess moisture to drain off. A light coating of oil and the broiler produced a beautifully charred exterior for our packets. Our Tahini-Lemon Dressing was the perfect creamy and bright foil for our fillets. We’ve had good luck using Peloponnese and Krinos brand grape leaves. Take care when handling the grape leaves; they can be delicate and tear easily. Larger grape leaves can be trimmed to 6 inches. If using smaller leaves (about 4 inches in diameter), reserve 40 leaves and cook as directed in step 2; overlap nine leaves to create a 9-inch circle in step. Snapper and sea bass are good substitutes for the grouper.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and minced
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 4 (4- to 6-ounce) skinless grouper fillets, ¾ to 1 inch thick
- 1 (16-ounce) jar grape leaves
- ½ cup Tahini-Lemon Dressing
- Whisk oil, parsley, capers, lemon zest, salt, and pepper together in medium bowl. Add grouper and gently turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate while preparing grape leaves.
- Reserve 24 intact grape leaves, roughly 6 inches in diameter; set aside remaining leaves for another use. Bring 8 cups water to boil in large saucepan. Add grape leaves and cook for 5 minutes. Gently drain leaves and transfer to bowl of cold water to cool, about 5 minutes. Drain again thoroughly.
- Adjust oven rack 8 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and spray with vegetable oil spray. Shingle 5 leaves smooth side down on counter into 9-inch circle with stems pointing toward center of circle, then place 1 leaf smooth side down over opening in center. Place 1 fillet in center of leaf circle and spoon portion of remaining marinade on top. Fold sides of leaf circle over grouper, then fold up bottom of circle and continue to roll tightly into packet. Transfer packet seam side down to prepared rack. Repeat with remaining grape leaves, fillets, and marinade.
- Pat tops of grouper packets dry with paper towels and brush with extra oil. Broil until grape leaves are crisp and lightly charred and grouper registers 140 degrees, 12 to 18 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through broiling. Serve with Tahini-Lemon Dressing.
Making Broiled Grape Leaf–Wrapped Grouper
1- BLANCH LEAVES Reserve 24 intact grape leaves, roughly 6 inches in diameter. Blanch leaves in boiling water, then gently drain and cool.
2- SHINGLE LEAVES Shingle 5 leaves smooth side down into 9-inch circle, then place 1 leaf smooth side down over opening in center.
3- FOLD PACKET Fold sides of leaf circle over grouper, then fold up bottom of circle and continue to roll tightly into packet.
4- BROIL Pat tops of packets dry and brush with oil. Broil until grape leaves are crisp and lightly charred and grouper registers 140 degrees.