….or pesce al cartoccio. Both a French and an Italian method of cooking fish in an enclosed parchment paper pouch along with herbs, lemon juice, butter, and sea salt. It couldn’t be simpler. The fish is delicately infused with the essence of the herbs and moistened with the released juices from the fish as it steams to perfection in less than ten minutes. This, to me, is the ultimate way to cook fresh seafood. The delicate flavor of the fish is beautifully preserved and complemented with a seductive aroma of citrus and herbs that is released when the parchment pouch is sliced open at the table to everyone’s surprised delight.
Perfect for entertaining! All the preparations can be done in advance, with the baking done just before serving.
Poisson en Papillote Serves 4
Needed: 4 sheets cooking parchment 12” x 15” a large baking tray
- 4 6oz fish fillets
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup finely sliced scallions, including the green parts
- 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- freshly ground white pepper
- flaked sea salt (Maldon)
- ½ cup gremolata (see here)
- 4 tablespoons fresh green peppercorns (or capers)
- 4 lemon wedges
Preheat the oven to 435f/225c Place the baking tray in the oven in the center position.
Fold the parchment paper in half and cut into a half heart shape as pictured. Set aside.
For each serving, open a heart shaped parchment paper and place thin slices of butter about 1 1/4” to the right of the center fold. Scatter sliced scallions over the butter and spritz with a little lemon juice. Place a fish fillet over the butter and spritz a little lemon juice over the fillet. Season the fillet with salt and pepper. Place several thin slices of butter over fillet and scatter gremolata generously over the butter. Spritz a little more lemon juice over the gremolata and scatter green peppercorns over and around the fish.
Fold the left side of the parchment over the fillet making a half heart shape.
Beginning at the top of the folded parchment, at the cleavage point if you will, begin folding the two sheets of parchment together by making triangular pleats, pointed at the top and widening at the bottom. Double fold the first pleat and crease the pleat firmly. Then proceed making the next pleat beginning by folding a little of the last pleat into the new pleat. Continue to pleat the parchment until you reach the bottom of the pouch. Give the end of the final pleat a good twist and fold it under the pouch. The pouch should now be tightly sealed. Don’t worry too much about how it looks! The objective is to make the pouch air tight so the steam is contained when baking the fish. Practice makes perfect!
Place the finished pouch on a baking tray and continue making the remaining pouches.
When finished, the papillotes can be baked promptly or covered with cling film and refrigerated. Ideally the papillotes should be prepared not more than an hour before baking so there isn’t too much moisture seepage which will weaken the parchment. Be sure to bring refrigerated papillotes to room temperature before baking.
Transfer the prepared papillotes onto the preheated baking tray in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. You will see the pouches puffing up as the steam builds up inside the pouch. Do not over bake. The steaming will work its magic within the 8 to 10 minute window, or 1 or 2 minutes longer if the fish fillet is more than 1 inch thick.
Promptly remove the papillotes from the oven, transfer them to individual serving plates, and deliver them to the table.
This is the moment for some kitchen theatrics! Using a very sharp knife or scissors cut a large X by length and breadth into the top of the parchment. Folding back the flaps of the parchment releases a billowing cloud of aromatic steam and reveals the fish in all its succulent gorgeousness! Voila!
As pictured, I love to pair poisson en papillote with another French classic, a potato gratin! (see here)
The ethereal quality of the fish along with the rich earthiness of the gratin make for a very pleasurable eating experience.