A few nights ago I decided to finally act upon a cooking technique that I first learned about over two years ago. I had seen it come up a few times on tastespotting.com, my favorite site to browse for recipes, and thought that it sounded intriguing. But somehow it always remained on the back burner until a few weeks ago when my mom and I were watching Food Network and it was featured on Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa.
The technique that I am referring to is called "fish en papillote" or "fish in paper". Basically the idea is to create a little packet, made of parchment paper, that includes the fish as well as some herbs and seasonings. The fish is baked in the paper packet and the steam that builds up inside allows for the fish to cook slowly and gently, absorbing all of the flavors of the herbs and seasonings inside.
I am so glad that I finally got around to trying this out! This technique is great for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is no strict recipe that needs to be followed...it can be done using any white fish and a number of different herbs and seasonings. I decided to make a somewhat Mediterranean style dinner and used halibut, lemon, capers, rosemary, and spinach. However I think it would also be great with some Asian flavors such as teriyaki, ginger, and soy.
Secondly, the packets can be prepared ahead of time and then refrigerated until ready to bake. For example, I made all of the packets on Friday and we ate some for that night but I saved the rest and baked them the next day when my grandparents came over for dinner. The fish tasted just as good when baked the following day and I put it in the oven straight from the fridge.
Finally, I think the technique is great for easy entertaining and small dinner parties. When the packets are ready and torn open they release a wonderful aroma and look beautiful with the fish inside. Also, the delicious juices are held within the packet and continue to provide fragrance and flavor to the fish.
Everyone in my family enjoyed the fish and I was quite pleased with how it turned out. I still can't believe it took me two years to try it but better late than never!
Baked Fish en Papillote
Note: This is an example of ingredients that can be put into the paper packet, therefore quantities are not important. Just be sure to follow the folding technique so that the paper packets are sealed and no steam escapes.
- Individual white fish fillets (6-8 oz portions)
- Lemon (sliced into rounds, zested)
- Baby spinach
- Fresh rosemary (can substitute with thyme or oregano)
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 tbsp capers, chopped
- Handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- Salt and pepper
- Combine the chopped capers, parsley, garlic clove, and lemon zest with the butter. Mix well until all of the ingredients are integrated in the butter. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Fold a large piece of parchment paper in half, lengthwise. Make one long cut diagonally along the bottom corner and two shorter diagonal cuts along the top. When unfolded it should resemble a heart.
- Place a handful of spinach in the center of half the paper heart. Spoon some of the prepared butter on top of the spinach, distributing a few pieces throughout.
- Lightly season the fish fillet with salt and pepper on both sides. Place the fillet on top of the spinach and then spoon some dabs of butter over the fish.
- Place a slice or two of the lemon on top as well as a half sprig of rosemary.
- Fold the other half of the parchment over and starting from the bottom corner make small overlapping pleats all the way around to seal the edges completely.
- Repeat with remaining fish fillets. Once ready, transfer all of the packets to a baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. (Generally about 12 minutes per inch of thickness). The parchment should puff up as the steam builds up inside.
- To serve, cut a small hole in the center of the packet and gently tear apart to the side. Make sure to tear centrally and lengthwise along the packet so that it stays mostly intact and the juices remain inside.