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Fish Cooked en Papillote
Living in South Florida we are lucky to often receive gifts of freshly caught fish from friends and family that are successful fisher-persons. As a native Floridian I know that you graciously accept the gift then wait until you get home to see exactly what you have, the good, the bad or the ugly. This most recent fish gift was wonderfully fresh, well cleaned, and nicely butchered; my husband’s family in Miami can give us more anytime they want to share their bounty, it has been a treat to cook and eat. Next time I might have to invite them for dinner. This large slab of unidentified white flaky but still substantial fish lent itself perfectly to this preparation. I sliced the fish into three large steaks and we all ate more then we need too but it was so good, why not indulge in overeating something that is healthy once in a while.
This meal of fish in a parchment paper envelope (that is the less fancy way of saying en papillote) was a perfect end of summer meal: light and flavorful. It featured the ample fresh produce that is available in the stores at great prices right now and paired with a clean white wine was a perfect ending for a long hot day. You can use almost any kind of mild fish in this recipe like snapper, salmon, or tilapia. The choices of veggies I added to my envelopes were based on what was at peak season in the market, so feel free to change out my choices for your favorites. I was a little lazy this evening and did not make the rice pilaf that I normally make to accompany this meal, because it reminds me of how the golf club would serve it when I was a child, instead a few chunks of crusty white bread did the trick.
As is often the case this is a meal that in a restaurant would cost a lot…and I got free fish to make this dinner so I am feeling very sassy and frugal. It’s also the kind of meal that a restaurant likes to load up the calories on without letting you know. I put two small pats of butter in each packet at restaurant they often glop on lots of butter, you know you have seen it pooling on your plate under your “healthy” fish. Controlling what and how much of something goes into your meal is just another advantage of cooking at home and if you are dieting just leave the butter out altogether.
3-4 6-8oz servings of a nice mild fish
Salt and Pepper
1 yellow squash sliced ¼ inch thick
1-2 tomatoes sliced ½ inch thick
2 lemons 1 sliced thin, 1 saved to squeeze over the fish before serving
1 large onion sliced thin
2 tbsp cold butter cut into 4-8 thin pats
1 bunch fresh basil
½ cup capers
¼ cup white wine
3-4 large sheet of parchment paper
Start by cleaning your fish, look for any bones or scales that you might need to remove. Then rinse and pat dry. Salt a pepper both sides of your fish and if needed slice into individual portions. Set your fish aside and cut a large square of parchment paper for each portion of fish, bigger is better on the paper so go wild. Spray one side of the paper with some cooking spray.
Slice all your veggies, cut those that cook the fastest the thickest and more substantial veggies thinner. I then salt and pepper the sliced veggies liberally, you can also add a sprinkle of your favorite dry herbs at this point, I used a little Italian spice blend.
Now it’s time to start building a packet. Divide up your veggies, wine, butter, basil and capers evenly between your packets. You really don’t have to build the layers exactly like this; you can do your own order. I do recommend that lemon goes close to the fish and that the tomatoes are on top, it just seems to work better that way. Be sure you start your pile in the middle of the sheet of paper. If there is skin on your fish I would put that on the bottom. I also have found that only mounding the veggies on three sides of the fish will help you when you need to fold up your packet because you will have a flat side to fold against. Don’t forget to add the capers with a little juice from their jar and a splash of white wine to each packet before you start to fold it up.
When you fold up the packet you are going to create a half moon with a crimped edge. Just start one side and start to folding triangles creasing the parchment hard each time you move to the next triangle. If you are doing it the way I do it (not to say that my way is definitive) you will get a tail at the end that I flip under the envelop to help keep it closed. In restaurants they will paint the outside of the parchment with egg wash or butter so it will brown and looks pretty at the table, I only do this extra step if I am serving guests, it will not cause the fish to cook any differently.
Bake the envelopes on a baking sheet with a lip in a 350 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes for a thick steak or only about 10-15 minutes for a thinner fillet. Martha Stewart says you can tell when the fish is done because the envelop will “puff up” well I am not really sure how she gets this to happen but more power to her. I use a timer! Pull out of the oven and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice.
A few things to keep in mind, you can use foil if you don’t have parchment, but be careful with acids and wine they can leach strange flavors out of the foil. Fish is the most common thing to be cooked en Papillote but it’s far from the only thing you can make this way, check out this cool article from Amanda Hesser at NY Times on other options for the parchment envelope. The best thing about this method is the fact that you whole house will not smell like fish, just throw the empty parchment away and the smell goes with it. It’s your choice you can serve the fish to each guest in the envelope or slide it out on the plate, just be sure you don’t lose any of the wonderful broth you have created in the package from the wine, capers, and butter if you plate the fish.