Friday, July 15, 2016

Cooking En Papillote.

I feel very fortunate to live where I do.  I have year-round access to some of the best seafood available.  Over the years, the Hawthornes have developed our own network of seafood sources – shrimpers, scallopers, crabbers, oystermen, sport fishermen, and my own two boys, who bit at an early age and have “fishin’ in their blood.”

During summer, the warm waters of the Gulf Stream bring the fish with them and we have a selection of dolphinfish, or mahi mahi, yellowfin tuna, grouper, snapper, Spanish mackerel, sea bass, cobia, wahoo, and marlin, to name a few.  The fact that I can throw a crab pot off my backyard pier and be rewarded with dinner in a few hours is an added bonus.

My first recipe for you is not so much a recipe, but a cooking technique.  It’s called cooking en papillote, meaning “cooking in parchment.”  Cooking en papillote is a gentle, delicate , moist-heat cooking method that is perfect for fish.  Typically, the fish is put in a folded package of parchment paper along with other ingredients, seasonings, and flavorings.  The package is sealed and baked and the food is steamed in its own flavorful juices.  As the packet heats, the air inside expands and the flavors of the ingredients are swept into it.  Basically, the ingredients are cooked with flavored air and form a sauce of their own essences. 

Some understanding of your ingredients is necessary so you know what flavors and seasonings work together, but the en papillote method easily lends itself to numerous flavor profiles.  This cooking technique is perfect for any white fish filet – cod, striped bass or rockfish, grouper, cobia, mahi mahi, or flounder.  This method encourages the cook to experiment with different flavor combinations, allowing the items in the package to flavor and complement each other.  Add fresh herbs and wine and you have what I like to call culinary synergy .  The total is more than the sum of the parts and it’s a beautiful thing.

For my poisson en papillote, I’m using grouper, a moist fish with firm, big flakes and a mild but distinctive flavor.

Grouper En Papillote
Serves 2.
2 4-oz. grouper filets
A few slices of shallots
A few slices of baby carrots
A few thin strips of baby zucchini and baby squash
A few thin strips of red, orange, yellow, and green bell peppers
Fresh basil
Lemon slices
2 TB unsalted butter
Thin lemon slices
Grape or cherry tomato slices (I used a new little tomato I found, called Cherub.  Sweetest thing ever.  I saved a few, planted them - I plant the whole tomato-, and now I have ripening Cherubs!)
Pinch freshly ground pepper
Pinch kosher salt
½ cup dry white wine
2 large pieces parchment paper

Rosie Note:  Whenever you’re cooking with wine, never use “cooking wine.”  Get a wine you’d actually drink.  When you cook wine, it intensifies the flavor, so if you concentrate bad flavor, you get even worse flavor.

Heat oven to 350°.

Fold a large piece of parchment paper in half and cut out a heart shape.  Place filet along the fold.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add lemon slices, carrots, onion, zucchini, squash, peppers, and a few leaves of basil. Top filet with butter pats.

Starting at the round end of the heart, start crimping the package, working your way to the point.  Right before you get to the end, pour in ¼ cup wine and finish sealing.

Place packages on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350° for about 20-22 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit for about 2-3 minutes before opening the packages.  For serving, I place the packages in a bowl and open up, being sure to inhale that swirling steam of aromas.

One of the extra bonuses of the en papillote method is that there’s virtually no clean-up. 

Once you have the basic method down, you can easily switch out ingredients and come up with your own flavor profiles.  Remember, you must always have a liquid in the packet for steaming the contents and infusing flavors.  If you don’t care for the wine, you could use vegetable or chicken broth.

For an Asian riff, consider using, garlic, fresh ginger slices, soy sauce, a little brown sugar mixed in rice wine for that sweet and sour flavor, water chestnut slices for texture, a little fish sauce, and maybe a drop or two of sesame oil.  (Note: A little bit of sesame oil goes a long way.  Use sparingly.)  For vegetables, you could use snow peas, asparagus, sliced baby bok choy, sliced radishes, or miniature corn.

For a Mexican version, contemplate chopped tomatoes, peppers, onions, jalapeños, lime slices and juice, fresh cilantro, cumin, cooked beans and rice, olives, diced avocado, and some Corona beer for the liquid.  

If you want Mediterranean, try basil, oregano, mint, parsley, or rosemary with assorted olives, tomatoes, onions, feta, and spinach.

Enjoy the pictures.

Here are my ingredients.

Rosie can be a bit OC.

Layer the flavors underneath and on top of your fish filet.
Dot with unsalted butter.

Start crimping your way around ...

... ending at the pointy end.
Pour in some white wine.


The aromas are intoxicating.

I think we'll dine al fresco.

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