Last week, I got a text message from my daughter Leslie asking me for my fish-in-parchment recipe. I was delighted. For mothers who spend many years preparing meals for their family, could there be a higher compliment?
It’s one of those recipes I have in my head.
Today’s generation, including my daughters, prefer to message everything. But I get annoyed with texting lengthy conversations. Trying to type on my phone’s small keypad is a recipe for disaster.
So, simply by pressing one button, gasp, I was talking with her instead.
Leslie has a 3-year-old, another on the way, and house guests. She told me she wanted to fix something easy but good for dinner and thought immediately of my foolproof fish recipe. Or maybe she had a fish craving.
Entertaining or not, I make it often.
The French know their fish and in this method – called cooking “en papillote” (pah-pee-yoht) – fish or other ingredients are put into a pouch or parcel, sealed and then baked in an oven.
The package inflates during cooking. Then at the table the paper is slit and peeled back to reveal its contents. The aromatic steam that bursts from the parchment is delightful and will make your mouth water.
It always reminds me of the foil packets we used to prepare in Camp Fire Girls. We’d wrap a hamburger patty, sliced potato, carrots and onion, crumple the aluminum foil edges, and then toss our Happy Camping Hobo Packets onto the hot coals. Unless we remembered to turn them in the fire, one side was usually burned and the other raw.
Baking fish in parchment, a special food-grade paper, is simply a more refined version of those hobo dinners.
It’s almost impossible to overcook fish this way. The paper locks in the steam and flavor, and the fish remains a beautiful color with a flavor balance of aromatic herbs, butter or drips of dry white wine.
Cooking en papillote is considered healthy and flavorful, enhanced by the ingredients you put into the bag. I like to add vegetables to the packet that cook quickly such as fresh spinach, thinly sliced potatoes or tomatoes.
In case you are entertaining, single papillotes can be made ahead of time and cooked at the last minute. It’s recommended you do this if you’re making them for three or more people. You can serve them unopened, letting each of your guests inhale the steam and aroma escaping as the papillote bag is opened.
It’s definitely a unique dining experience.
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist and blogger. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel or look for her blog at www.lynnkessel.blogspot.com.
TILAPIA EN PAPILLOTE
4 6-ounce tilapia fillets or other whitefish fillets
4 red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch slices
3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
12 kalamata olives, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut eight, 15-inch squares of parchment paper. On the center of four of the pieces of parchment, divide and layer all of the ingredients in the following order: potatoes, fish, tomatoes, garlic, basil and olives. When completed, drizzle each stack with a tablespoon of olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Using the remaining sheets of parchment paper, place one sheet on top of each stack, sealing the edges with narrow folds to enclose the ingredients and seal.
Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. To serve, cut an “X” on top of each packet and carefully fold back the paper to avoid the steam. Serve immediately.
Makes four servings.