Fish en Papillote
Fish en Papillote is a neatly packaged meal.
Only, not that kind of a package! Enclosing the fish and its toppings in foil, parchment or wax paper seals in all its flavors. The package acts as a mini pressure cooker. Minimal moisture maximum flavor.
Papillote is a cute French word that means curl, flutter, blink. In the food world it refers to the frill that tented paper forms around an enclosed ingredient, which remains moist and succulent throughout the cooking process.
Play with your food!
The basic recipe I start with is Niçoise style (tomato-olive-basil flavor trio). Niçoise or kalamata olives are a perfect choice here. You can play with other vegetables (sliced zucchini, mushrooms, peppers, etc….) , but it is important to use very-quick-cooking vegetables to top the sea bass, and slice them very thin, so they are ready at the same time the fish is.
Fish en Papillote Going Asian!
On the days you don’t go French, go Asian! Exact same method, with Asian seasonings. Toss Baby bokchoy cut lengthwise, sliced shiitake caps, scallions, minced cilantro, grated ginger, toasted sesame oil, miso paste diluted in a little water. Proceed with the recipe as instructed.
Choice of Fish
I love to make it with sea bass for a wonderful treat. But sea bass can err on the expensive side. You will end up with something as elegant and dramatic as the best steak dinner. So on very special days, it is well worth it. However, some days it is simply not affordable. In that case, use other thick white fillets: turbot, halibut, cod etc… And on budget days, even salmon will do the trick.
How about making this recipe sans papillotes, on days you need to save that extra step, no matter how simple? That would be delicious too, minus the papillotte presentation drama (by the way, the packaging step is very easy, and there’s no sautéing. Just sayin”). You would start by heating the oil in a large skillet, then saute all remaining ingredients, then stir in 1 cup of dry white wine (can’t have wine? That’s OK, use water), and place the sea bass delicately on top of the saute, and cook covered, on a medium flame, about 10 minutes, until the fish is just tender. Serve the fish hot, and spoon the sauce around the fish, using it all up. Serve alone or with noodles or a white vegetable puree.
- 4 sea bass or other medium-thick fish fillets, about 6-7 ounces each, thoroughly dried with paper towels
- 4 squares foil, wax or parchment paper, about four times the size of the fillets
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Ground pepper to taste
- 2 large tomatoes, or 4 plum tomatoes, sliced very thin
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
- 1/4 cup basil leaves, packed, sliced very thin
- 1/3 cup pitted niçoise or kalamata olives, halved
- Vegetable spray
Preheat the oven to 425*f. Place each fillet near the center of a paper square. Drizzle each fillet with the oil. Sprinkle ground pepper over each. Top with tomato slices, garlic, basil and olives. Fold the paper squares to enclose the fish loosely but completely, crimping the paper as you go, forming packets. Leave enough room when shaping the packets to provide an outlet for steam. Spray the top of each closed packet with vegetable spray.
Bake for twelve to fifteen minutes. Transfer the packets to individual dishes. Let each guest slit open his own bag and eat out of it.