Fish en papillote – sounds fancy, eh? Well, don’t let this French term scare you away from one of the easiest and most fool proof ways to prepare fish. All “en papillote” means is “in parchment.” The method just requires some minor origami folding skills (which is diagramed below), which creates a tightly sealed pouch that steams the ingredients inside. It’s a simple and healthy dinner quick enough for weeknights but also impressive enough for a weekend dinner party. Plus, there are little to no dishes to wash from the preparation process. Yes, I repeat, little to no dishes to wash.
The first time I had fish en papillote was actually at a dinner party thrown by one of my best friends, who at the time was a pastry chef at Google. For this dinner party, she had teamed up with another Google chef to cook up a four course feast. The fish en papillote was presented as the third course, and I remember how fun it was to open up the parchment package, not knowing what surprises we’d find inside. As we unwrapped our meal, we discovered just 4 ingredients: salmon, chard, thyme, and lemon. It was so simple, elegant, and whimsical. Most importantly though, it was delicious. The packaging traps moisture inside, so you’re ensured a juicy and tasty bite of fish.
I’ve used this fish cooking formula many, many times since that first discovery, experimenting with a variety of flavor profiles and vegetable accompaniments. The seasoning can be as simple as salt, pepper, and lemon, but the addition of herbs such as thyme or dill are always great. Inject an ethnic angle with spice blends (e.g., garam masala for Indian, ras al hanout for Middle Eastern) or sauces (e.g., soy sauce for Asian, curry for Thai / Indian). For the vegetables, choose something that’s quicker cooking, such as greens, tomatoes, thinly sliced mushrooms, summer squashes, or peppers, but probably not root vegetables or winter squashes. The combinations are endless, so pick up some parchment paper and start folding.
Below I offer one of my favorite combinations and flavor profiles.It reminds me of weeknight dinner at my house. My dad would often “steam” fish in the microwave with some soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and aromatics. Toss on some shitake mushrooms, and we’d have a delicious dinner. I’ve used the same flavor profile and ingredients here, but just packaged it up en papillote.
Fish en Papillote with Shitake Mushrooms
- Some type of sustainable fish (e.g., certain types of cod, mahi mahi, sole, salmon, trout, halibut), filleted – 2 lbs.
- Shitake mushrooms – 0.5 lb.
- Shallot – 1 bulb
- Ginger, grated – 1/2 tbs.
- [Gluten-free] Soy sauce – 2 tbs.
- Rice vinegar – 1 tsp.
- Toasted sesame oil – 1 tsp.
- Olive oil – 2 tbs.
- Kosher salt & fresh pepper
- Parchment paper or aluminum foil (I prefer parchment paper because it presents better, but either are fine)
- Cilantro – a few sprigs
- Fish – If frozen, defrost. Then rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels (you may need 2 for each side of the fish)
- Shitake mushrooms – Quickly rinse under cold water and then slice thinly
- Shallot – mince
- Ginger – grate
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees
- Mix together grated ginger, minced shallot with soy sauce, rice vinegar, and toasted sesame oil. Whisk in olive oil. Pour half of marinade over mushrooms. Reserve the other half for the fish
- Tear out 4 sheets of parchment paper or aluminum foil, about 14″ to 16″ wide each
- Following step #1 in the diagram below, fold each sheet of parchment paper in half. Then cut them into an angular heart shape as shown with the dotted line
- Place the fish inside and sprinkle with some kosher salt and pepper. Cover with remaining sauce and then top with mushrooms. Sprinkle with some more kosher salt and pepper
- Again following the diagram above, follow steps #2 through #4 to fold up the parchment paper, creating a tight seal for steaming. Repeat until all 4 pouches are made
- Place on baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes
- While fish is baking, chop up cilantro
- When fish is done, serve up the pouches on individual plates. Have each person get to open their own and garnish with cilantro
Serve / Substitute / Supplements
- Switch up the sauce: You can easily make any sauce to go with this fish. Really, you’re just making a vinaigrette. Get inspired here
- Skip the sauce: Something as simple as a sprinkling of kosher salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and a thin slice of lemon is all you need for a classic fish dish
- Craving greens: Placing the fish on a small pile of baby spinach is a wonderful way to get some greens into your dinner