I live in an odd little part of West Seattle. My house faces industry, with trains and container ships going by at all hours. I love watching the Harbor Island train bridge lower over the Duwamish for the trains to cross. It feels like I’m in on a secret world that happens far from the world I know. (Namely theater and food.) Behind the house is all wild. Dozens of Great Blue Herons nest just above us as the hill slopes up to Pigeon Point, a squabbling, growling cacophony that returns every summer. The herons are so graceful until they get to their rookery where they turn into miniature teenage dinosaurs.
There is a lot of history to this neighborhood. It was, long ago, a Croatian fishing community. Which is why almost every house has a fig tree in its yard…every family planted one. Figs are BIG in Croatian culture and cuisine – jams, liqueurs, dried figs, you name it. Not to be without their figs in this damp place, they planted them, and the trees survived and thrived. The story goes, told by the previous owner of my house, the backyard had a big trash heap in it that must have been there for decades. As soon as they cleared the trash away, BA-GOING!!!!!!! Up popped this fig tree.
Things that are true:
- I have lived in apartments my whole adult life until I moved into this house. I am a beginner gardener at best.
- Neither I nor my partner have ANY idea how to prune a fig tree.
- Fig trees have a LOT of fortitude. (See Ba-Going above.) And a lot of personality. If you prune it wrong, the next season a branch will just SHOOT UP DIRECTLY TO THE HEAVENS from where you pruned it.
- We learned this the hard way. We tried to prune it back as it was getting a bigger and now our fig tree has a case of bed head for the ages…branches are TESTIFYING.
I know we’re not doing it right, and the fig is completely out of control, but even so it makes me LAUGH. It makes me so happy, this hundred-year-old fruit tree, an immigrant from the Adriatic Sea, just pushing its way around the yard and into the sky, elbowing through the PNW jungle to see the sun.
It has only produced a couple of edible figs since I’ve known it. All we can figure is the wildlife gets to the good ones before we do. Because I’m not exactly on the “Gets the Worm” schedule it’s no surprise the squirrels and birds beat me to the goods. Either that, or our pruning deficiencies are not creating the optimal fig making environment? (Suggestions welcome!)
What it does produce is the most beautiful leaves. The kind Adam & Eve make into swimwear. Out of a fairy tale type leaves.
Wrap a piece of mild fish in it, say fresh Halibut from Wilson Fish, let it steam for a bit, and something tropical happens. The gentlest aroma steeps into the fish. The closest thing I can equate it to is coconut? But not quite. It’s simple and glorious, and makes you close your eyes and inhale as you’re eating it.
Here is my recipe for Fig Leaf Wrapped Halibut. It’s more a technique than a recipe. Honestly, any fish will do. Rock Fish, Black Cod. Swordfish I hear is lovely this way, and Alice Waters made it with salmon. I think Halibut is particularly well suited because CONTROVERSY WARNING I think Halibut has an awesome texture but not much taste.
“Erin!” you say, “I don’t have a fig tree…how am I supposed to make this?” Well instead of offering any substitutions, (parchment? Okay, that’s a substitution. It will keep things moist like the leaf but not add the personality.) Instead of offering substitutions I will encourage you to peek into your neighbor’s yard. Fig trees, as it turns out, are EVERYWHERE once you start looking. Find a friend with one, if it’s anything like mine they’ve got leaves to spare. (Or make a new friend in the neighborhood. What a great conversation starter.)
Get thee to the farmers markets right now, because they are exploding with gasp-worthy produce.
Fig Leaf Wrapped Halibut
- 2 lbs Fresh Halibut Cut into six 5 oz(ish) pieces
- 1 Lemon Thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 6 fig leaves Washed but not dried
- Preheat oven to 400 ℉
- Pat each piece of Halibut dry. Brush with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Place 3 thin lemon slices in the center of each fig leaf.
- Place the piece of halibut on top of the lemon slices.
- Beginning at the stem side of the big leaf, begin folding the leaves tightly around the halibut, creating a little wrapped present. If the stem is long enough, you can make a small hole in the leaf opposite to weave it through.
- Bake on a sheet pan, (ideally with a wire rack on it,) for 14-16 minutes