Paper! Paper! Eat all about it! Poisson en papillote

By on July 21, 2014

fishThe Hawthornes love their seafood. A delicate, sweet, white fish filet is always number one on our list of entrées and the beauty of living where we live is that we enjoy an abundance of fresh fish year round.

I’m offering you an alternative method of cooking fish. It’s called cooking en papillote, or cooking in parchment paper. It’s an under-appreciated technique and I want to change that.

When cooking en papillote, your food is sealed in parchment paper and cooks in its own juices. It’s a moist-heat cooking method in which the food steams, but the steam doesn’t dissipate; it swirls around inside the package, infusing the ingredients with flavored air.

The ingredients are gently cooked in moist heat, steamed in their own flavorful liquids and juices and the sauce that forms is purely the essence of the ingredients.

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, mahi mahi, cobia, trout or flounder. And this method of cooking encourages the home 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 a culinary synergy – the resulting total is more than the sum of its parts.

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Poisson en Papillote
1 white fish filet, approximately 1-inch thick, 4 ounces, per person
4 slices of onion
4 slices of bell pepper (I like to use multicolored peppers – green, yellow, orange, and red – just for the pretty.)
1 carrot, julienned
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 slices of lemon
4 pats of unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Old Bay seasoning
A few leaves of fresh basil, torn
¼ cup white wine (Never use a “cooking wine.” Use a wine you would drink, say a nice Chardonnay. The flavor is going to intensify as it cooks, so if you start out with bad wine, you end up with even worse wine.)

Cut a large piece of parchment paper. Fold it in half and cut out a half-heart shape. Place seasoned (freshly ground salt and pepper) filet on one side of the heart and top with vegetable slices, lemon slices, butter, and basil.


Starting at the round end of the heart, crimp the edges to seal the parchment. When you’re almost to the end and have a little package, pour in the wine, and continue crimping to the edge to seal completely.
Bake on rimmed baking sheet in a 350° oven for approximately 22 minutes.

When you plate this, serve it en papillote. Place the whole package on your serving dish and unwrap, allowing the heady aromas to escape. Think of it as dinner theater.

Now that you know the technique, you can apply this to all sorts of fish, throughout the year –
flounder, grouper, snapper, bass, cod, cobia – you name it. And you can adjust your flavor profiles however you want.

For example, we used the following ingredients for Speckled Trout En Papillote:
½ large shallot, thinly sliced
½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 knob of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
Chopped parsley
Chopped chives
Lemon thyme
1 lime, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the liquid ingredients:
½ cup chardonnay
3 TB Tamari sauce (soy)
1 TB mirin (sweetened sake)
2 TB olive oil
Mix all together and divide among pouches.

Experiment! It’s the only way to learn.

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