Cooking fish in paper is not as complicated as it sounds––though the fancy French word “en papillote” will have you believe so. Originated in France, cooking fish en papillote is a technique for cooking fish with thinly sliced vegetables like red bell pepper, carrots, and zucchini and pairing them with aromatics (think lemon, lemongrass, ginger, leeks, thyme, etc.), and steaming this setup in a tent of parchment paper. Your choice of veggies and aromatics are limitless as long as you follow a few guidelines: 1) they make sense with the other components of the dish and 2) the veggies are small and tender. In my opinion, it is a humble, yet refreshing and healthier way to serve a fish fillet. While you can make a chicken or even lamb en papillote, it is most commonly used with meaty white fish like halibut, flounder, fluke, cod fish, etc.
Cooking anything en papillote is an ancient moist heat method using water vapor that is extracted from the vegetables and proteins when high heat is applied. Since water vapor itself is essentially tasteless, the addition of seasonings and aromatic vegetables are necessary to generate flavor. Since the time cooking food wrapped in paper was invented, people have created alternative wrapping vehicles like banana leaves and corn husks. These imprint more flavor to the food than parchment paper. Utilizing parchment paper becomes useful when the main dish inside is of delicate quality.
With days getting shorter and evenings getting colder, most of us crave a cozy homemade meal that is a breeze to put together and quick to clean up. Halibut en papillote is exactly that. Also, if you’re looking for a recipe that leaves out carbs, you have arrived at the one.
So, how do you cook fish in paper? Simply grab a piece of parchment paper and do your best to cut it into a round circle large enough for the fish and veggies to be stacked on one side of the sheet when it’s folded in half and leaving about 4 – 5 inches of empty space around the stack. Enclose the parchment paper by tenting it loosely around the stack of fish and veggies. Fold and crimp it tightly around the edge, creating a half moon shape like an empanada, then twist the end and tuck it underneath. This will keep it closed, trapping any steam created during the cooking process inside. Prior to pinching the parchment paper closed, a dash of white wine and some extra virgin olive oil is added. This acid and fat combo will help keep the fish moist and delicious. Adding it towards the end will prevent the liquid from spilling out as you’re assembling the packet.
Consider this recipe idea to be an extension of the popular one pan meal food trend headlining every magazine you see near the supermarket checkout line. With one single serving inside one piece of parchment paper, all that’s left to do is place it on a sheet tray and let the oven do the heavy lifting for you. At 415° Fahrenheit, your halibut en papillote will be done in approximately 10 – 15 minutes. I suggest you check it at the 8-minute mark to have an idea of how much more time it needs to cook. Some proteins and vegetables take a bit longer and not all ovens heat up the same way. A good visual indicator that your fish is cooked is when the parchment paper is puffed up and slightly browned.
How do you eat fish en papillote? Okay, great question. It is normally served just like that. The entire packet, parchment paper and all, gets transferred to a plate. Pinch the top of the parchment paper and cut it open with a pair of scissors or knife and roll the paper open so that the entree fully reveals itself. Part of this process allows for a dramatic moment (so get your phones out) where steam and a beautiful fragrance will envelope your senses. Remove and discard any herbs and inedible citrus rinds before you dig in. You can enjoy your halibut directly from the parchment paper. Optionally, you can intricately slide the contents onto your plate and discard the parchment paper.
Cooking fish en papillote is a great way to show off garnishes like large leaves of basil or last minute baby spinach thrown in. Serve your fish en papillote with a side of artisanal romesco sauce or caper sauce. Look in your fridge. What do you find? Arugula? Baby spinach? Throw a few leaves on top. The residual steam will organically wilt the greens and you will end up with a plate you are proud to present. Explore a culinary past with a classic like Halibut en Papillote.
Halibut en papillote recipe
● 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
● 1 lemon, thinly sliced in rounds
● 1-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
● 4 sprigs of thyme
● 1 shallot, sliced thin
● 1 cup snow peas, woody bits trimmed
● 1 red bell pepper, julienned
● 2 halibut fillets
● Salt & pepper, to taste
● 2 tbsp white wine, divided
● 2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
● Basil leaves, as garnish
● 2 tbsp store-bought remoulade, divided
● 2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes in oil, divided
1. Preheat the oven to 415° Fahrenheit. Place a 12 x 16-inch piece of parchment paper horizontally on a surface area and fold in half. With scissors, cut one inch off the corners to make a rounded shape at the corners.
2. Drizzle a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil on one side of the parchment paper, closer to the folded seam. Shingle a few pieces of the lemon and ginger slices on the oil. Place 2 sprigs of thyme on each side of the lemon and ginger.
3. Layer the shallots on top of the lemon and ginger, spread evenly, but stacked on top. To the stack, begin layering in shingles one serving of the snow peas and julienned red bell peppers. Season the vegetables to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Season halibut fillets with salt and pepper. Place one halibut fillet vertically on top of the vegetables. Make sure the stack stays neat. Layer any remaining lemon and ginger on top of the halibut. Place one tablespoon of unsalted butter on top.
5. Seal the papillote by folding over the parchment paper in a half moon shape. Starting at the top, fold and crimp the edge of the parchment paper. When you get to the end, add a tablespoon of white wine through the slit, then twist and tuck underneath to close.
6. Transfer the halibut en papillote to a sheet tray. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the papillote has puffed up and is slightly brown.
7. Transfer the halibut en papillote to a plate. Pinch the top of the parchment paper and cut open with scissors or a knife. Tear and roll the paper away from the main entree. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve with remoulade sauce and sun-dried tomatoes in oil. Enjoy!