Monday, October 08, 2007

Fish en Papillote

This is one of the most perfect meals for one person that I know. It's also no more trouble to cook for two or four. "En papillote" means wrapped in parchment paper. You seal the ingredients in a parchment packet and bake, so your meal steams in its own juices. The key is to trust the natural good qualities of the food inside the packet.

I learned this technique in a cooking class I took years ago, but I hadn't done it at home in almost as many years. Mike thought of it when we were trying to come up with dinner ideas recently. We bought some great-looking trout, but didn't cook it that night because we ended up having a late lunch and weren't really hungry for dinner. Mike made it for lunch the following day, but I wasn't in the mood for fish until it came out of the oven looking totally delicious. A few days later, I was on my own for dinner, so I re-created Mike's meal for myself.

I swear, you wouldn't think some vegetables and fish tossed in nothing but a little olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper could develop such great flavor after 25 minutes baking in parchment paper, but it does! I love the combination of carrots, zucchini and purple potatoes I used here, but you can use just about any veggies or type of fish you want. This particular trio of vegetables is good for color, but you could always sprinkle on some fresh herbs before serving to brighten things up. Even though the food is mostly steaming, the vegetables -- being cut so thinly -- still have time to develop a roasted sweetness. If you worry about overcooking fish, this is the fool-proof method for you, because a little extra time steaming won't have that dreaded dried-out effect.

Et it is after baking. The fish is moist, and the vegetables have enough time to brown slightly and develop flavor. The fish I used here is Kona Kampachi.

Fish en Papillote
This is hardly a recipe -- it's rather a technique -- so give it a try when you're not in the mood to follow strict directions. I'm writing guidelines to serve two people, but the quantities and specific ingredients are totally up to you. If you have a lot of vegetables, use a bigger piece of parchment. If you have a very thick piece of fish, bake a little longer. You can error on the side of caution, because it's awfully hard to overcook using this method.

Serves 2

2 pieces parchment paper, about 15 x 30 inches (or large enough to loosely fold over the contents)
2 small purple potatoes (about 1/2 lb.), very thinly sliced
1 to 2 zucchini, cut into 2-inch sticks
handful of baby carrots (or 2 full size), cut into matchsticks
2 (6 to 8 ounce) fish fillets like trout, snapper, salmon, tilapia, grouper, etc.
olive oil
lemon juice (optional)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out the two sheets of parchment paper and divide the vegetables between them, placing the veggies on one half of each sheet so you can fold it over to make a packet. Lay the fish fillets on top of the veggies, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Take one piece of parchment and fold the loose end of the paper over the fish and vegetables. Starting at one corner, crimp the paper together, folding it over bit by bit so you create a sealed semi-circle. Repeat with the other sheet of parchment. Place the two packets on a baking sheet and cook for 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove from oven and place each packet on a plate and serve. Each person can tear open the packets themselves, slide the food onto the plates and discard the paper. You can offer extra lemon or fresh herbs if you want.

Wondering if any other food bloggers like to cook en papillote?

1) Pim of Chez Pim does -- check out the beautiful young ginger that she uses along with scallion for fish en papillote.
2) Gastronomie's Red Snapper en Papillote is a work of art from start to finish -- great photos!
3) Kevin of Seriously Good cooks my favorite fish -- salmon -- en papillote.

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Lydia said...

Such an elegant way to cook and serve -- it never fails to impress! And I love the ability to create such clean and light flavors. I haven't cooked en papillote in years, and I'd forgotten how much I like doing it!

Mo said...

We just had orange roughy en Papillote last night. I love the fool-proof way this cooks fish. We did ours on the bar-b-que and used shitake mushrooms and a bit of tarragon and white wine. Yum!

I love your colorful assortment of vegetables. (Especially the purple potatoes.)

Alanna said...

Hi Julie ~ Just wanted to let you know that your post is featured on BlogHer today! ~ AK