Last week, my teen boys were busy with weekend activities that left me and my husband free for the dinner of our choosing – a rarity! I thought about heading to our favorite restaurant but knew the wait would be torturous on Friday night. I weighed the option of making an elaborate gourmet meal at home, but honestly didn’t have the energy to pull it off. And then I remembered a quick and easy way to make fish at home – en papillote! I had a date night-worthy dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes with my recipe for Herbed Cod with Green Olives, Potatoes and Feta.
So, I bet you’re wondering just what en papillote means. I just love throwing around fancy culinary French terms. In day dreams, I imagine myself to be the protégé of my idol Julia Child, the chef who taught American housewives how to master the art of French cooking back in the day. Anyway, en papillote is just the ooh-la-la way to say cooked in parchment paper. If you’re not familiar with making fish in parchment paper, you need to learn toute suite! It’s a simple yet sophisticated cooking technique that can be used with nearly every type of fish. Fish never tastes dried out, instead every bite is moist and tender – plus, clean-up is a breeze. You can find parchment paper on the foil and plastic wrap aisle of the grocery store. However, do NOT mistake wax paper for parchment, the results would be horrendous. Pastry chefs love to bake on parchment because it keeps baked goods from sticking to the pan and the thin paper can withstand heat up to 425 F degrees. Cooking en papillote is also a sensible way for folks to be mindful of their diets -- simply wrap up fish and vegetables into packets with herbs, seasonings and just a splash of olive oil for a heart-healthy meal that steams itself in the oven in about 15 minutes.
The technique for cooking in parchment paper is easy. Place a square sheet of parchment paper on a baking pan and layer with vegetables you love. Tender vegetables can left whole or cut into large chunks, but dense ingredients (like root vegetables) should be sliced thinly for quick and even cooking. On top of the vegetables add a 4-ounce portion of skinned, boned fish and then drizzle with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice and sprinkle with herbs and other seasonings – get as creative as you wish! As a final step, add flavor-boosting ingredients like olives, capers, citrus zest or bold cheeses.
There are several ways to wrap up a parchment packet. I like to envelop my fish into a half moon shape by folding the paper over the top and then crimping the edges with folded pleats until totally sealed. I think this style of folding makes the packets look like paper calzones! You’ll be amazed how fast the fish cooks and the ease of cleanup – and it’s totally acceptable, even desirable, to serve the finished fish straight out of the packets.
You can also wrap up parchment packets into “purses” by pulling up all corners and giving the midsection a twist until secure (tie off with cord if needed). I’ve used this purse style with vegetarian packets - no official recipe for these. Just place approximately one cup of assorted raw vegetables in the center of a square of parchment, drizzle with one tablespoon of your favorite vinaigrette-style salad dressing and bake at 400 F degrees for 20 minutes.