the short & simple guide to cooking fish without stinking out your apartment

fish in the bag-2

Hands up all you fish lovers out there. Good, glad to see I’m not alone.

Now hands up those of you who hardly ever cook fish at home? I see.

I know plenty of people say how much they love fish but they don’t like cooking it at home. For some, it’s lack of confidence that’s holding them back – and lack of knowlegde. The other big reason, which I caught myself wrestling with the other day is the smell.

Fresh fish is meant to smell like the sea, which is lovely. But I’m taking about the smell you get when you wake up the day after an evening of pan frying the catch of the day. Normally it doesn’t bother me – I live in an apartment where the kitchen is well out of the way, in it’s own little room – which I hate most of the time because it’s very antisocial.

The other day, I was wondering around the local market in Barceloneta, all the amazing fish of the Mediterranean captured my imagination. All sorts of crazy looking sea creatures – some familiar but many very different from those you see in Sydney. I couldn’t help myself so I let a lovely rosy piece of salmon follow me home for dinner.

Of course when I got back to my little one bedroom apartment where the kitchen is just a ‘wall’ along the side of the living room, I realised that if I pan fried my fish I wouldn’t be able to avoid the smell in the morning. With a quick flick through Simone Ortega’s 1080 Recipes (actually the flick wasn’t technically quick – given that I had to translate from the Spanish) I had a solution. I would bake my fish in a bag – problem solved. And so I give you:

the short and simple guide to cooking fish without stinking out your apartment:

i. Take fish with some lemon & butter. Season
ii. Wrap it in foil
iii. Bake in a hot oven for about 10mins. Done.


fish in the bag-4

fish baked in a bag
serves 1

There are endless options cooking fish this way. I haven’t even begun to play around with the possibilities. The addition of vegetables such as fennel and asparagus are on my list of things to try. A few par boiled potatoes would work – soaking up the lemony cooking juices.

If you’re trying to keep your butter intake down, feel free to substitute in a judicious drizzle of extra virgin olive oil – but you will miss out on the lovely instant sauce of the fish juices, lemon and butter.

I love that all the juices are kept in the bag, so if you do happen to overcook the fish a little, it won’t dry out.

The other real beauty of this dish is that it can be adapted easily for one as it can be for a crowd – just make one parcel per person. Perfect for if you’re having problems with portion contol when cooking solo – which reminds me – would be lovely to serve with my secret single behaviour wilted greens.

1/2 lemon, sliced
1 fish cutlet or fillet, approx 200g (7oz)
1 knob butter
mixed salad leaves, to serve

Preheat oven to 250C (480F) no fan forced.

Take a large piece of foil Place lemon slices in the centre. Top with salmon and butter and season well. Fold the foil to wrap and seal the fish.

Bake for 10 – 12minutes or until the fish is cooked to your liking.

To serve, place a bed of leaves on a dinner plate. Top with fish and lemon slices and drizzle over the pan juices.

fish in the bag


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  • This is great Jules! I’ve been doing this for years, I think I saw Jamie Oliver do on TV a while ago, and I loved it for two reasons – no pan to scrub out afterwards, and no fishy smell! I always go with the basic lemon and butter and occasionally add some sliced capsicums and zucchini as they both steam perfectly in the time it takes to cook the fish, and again, no extra dishes for the vegies..

    Hope you’re enjoying Spain – have you written about El Bulli yet? Would love to hear how it went! :)


  • hi alison
    I guess I’m a late comer to the baking in the bag thing – forgot to mention the reduced washing up benefits – thanks for reminding me

    loving spain – elBulli next week – very excited

  • Try also adding a splash dry white or cinzano and a few sprigs of thyme — best suited for more delicate fish. For more robust fish you can also throw in a few cherry tomatoes and a couple of well-rinsed capers instead.

  • My husband is none too fond of fish to start with, but he particularly loathes the smell, so thank you for giving me some ideas to try out, other than ordering fish for myself when we go out to dinner! I’m enjoying reading about your hols. in Spain and hope you continue to have a wonderful time!

  • Thank you for this tip! I am one of those funny people who enjoy fish that don’t smell like fish! hehehe This cooking method would be perfect for me!

  • Once you’re back in Sydney head down to the fish market for a snapper – we do whole ones wrapped in foil on the bbq – splash of light soy, masses of coriander, lemon, spring onions.. you name it, we stick it in – serve with asian coleslaw for summer suppers… my kids eat every last scrap of fish cooked this way (and very little washing up..) plus you can get any size of snapper for any number of people..

    Very excited for you re: next week.. looking forward to the El Bulli write up VERY much (and the blind date..)

    Happy eating!

  • Hi Jules, I am not sure if I am excited or jealous…..would love to be there. Can you let me know why you mention not using a fan forced oven? I always set my oven to fan without any thought.

  • mark
    you’d love it here – be excited!
    didnt mean to be cryptic – my little apartment doesn’t have a fan forced oven so that’s all. If you are using a fan forced it’s best to reduce the set temperature by 20C (or 40F).

    thanks for the tip – I’m a big fan of snapper – now I have something to look forward to when I get home. yay. I was thinking when I was writing this piece that it would be a good BBQ technique – I hate when fish gets stuck when you try and cook it directly.
    looking forward to sharing my elBulli experience as well.

    I can understand about not liking the smell of fish. hope this works for you.

    thanks jennifer
    hope this works for your husband – glad you’re enjoying reading about my trip

    I was thinking some vino and herbs would be a good addition. thx for reminding me.

  • very cool blog. just wanted to let you know that. you have it all here; great recipes, beautiful blog (simple is perfect) and absolutely amazing photography. do you shoot your own photos for this?
    Oh, and I love fish, pan fried catfish is one of my favs.
    I’ve subscribed. :-)


  • thanks for commenting & supporting stonesoup brian – really appreciate it.
    I’ve never had catfish but it’s on my list of things to try now

  • The other thing that works great is just plain parchment paper…place the fish on top of a medley of veggies (I use leeks, red peppers, carrots, a bit of cilantro with a squeeze of lemon mixed in) and then wrap it all up in the parchment and bake for 20-25 minutes. Works wonders for salmon or tilapia!

    • thanks for pointing out the parchment paper jennifer – we call it baking paper in australia

      I actually would have used paper rather than foil – much more photogenic but my kitchen in barcelona isn’t that well equiped

  • David Herbert of The Australian has a great recipe for white fish baked on a bed of cous cous that has been soaked in boiling water infused with saffron. The cous cous also has lemon zest and halved cherry tomatoes through it, then, once soaked, coriander and parsley mixed through it. Pop the fish on top in a foil parcel, season, drizzle with oil and lemon juice and bake. It has become an instant classic at our house and is on high rotation!

  • what a simple way to cook a fish fillet! i will try it next time.
    normally i just stir fry it like steak.

  • This is a great idea for my fiance who never had decent fish until he was in college – he still finds the smell of it cooking to be weird. I love the smell, but those are probably my Bahamian roots talking. There’s nothing as wonderful as sitting on a dock near a fish fry and eating a freshly friend fish head and all! Seriously, though, as long as it gets more people to eat fish, this is a great idea.

    • hey abigail
      I can only imagine what it’s like to sit on a dock near a fish fry eating freshly fried fish – lucky you
      sounds like your fiance is in good hands

  • Delicious.

    I had an AMAZING salmon and scallop dish last week that was cooked in this manner, with enoki and button mushrooms and the tastiest sauce I’ve eaten in a long time, which I have no idea how to make myself. Boo.

    • hey conor
      don’t you hate when you have no idea how to replicate something delicious – pretty much my whole meal at elBulli was like that – I kept asking myself – how did they do it?

  • Oh thank goodness for you Jules! Now I don’t have to stand in our uncovered courtyard in the middle of a rainy Winter’s night in my duffle coat, holding an umbrella while pan-frying fish over the BBQ ring burner. A real rigmarole just to avoid the morning-after kitchen ‘aroma’ of a fish dinner the night before.
    Millie ^_^

    • yay millie
      I’ve been there before as well – and always thought the fish tasted better because I had to suffer a little to get it – but not any more

  • Great to find your blog. I have put one of your photos on my site. You are absolutely right about fish not supposing to smell of fish, most of the fish in the supermarkets over here is horrible and smelly. You can also try burning some candles, that helps to get rid of the smell as well. I look forward to reading more from you.

    I hope this next link you don’t think is spam. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has started a campaign against the discard of fish, over half of the fish caught in the North Sea is thrown back dead, even though much of it is really large cod, it is dead and useless but the fishermen cannot land it as they are often over quota. Hugh has started a petition to get this ludicrous ruling changed. Please join in the fight and pass it on.

    Hugh’s Fish Fight

  • I’ve got a particularly sensitive sense of smell. My mom used this method the last time and I just about gagged from the smell and was unable to eat the cod. Any other suggestions?

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