Cooking with parchment paper is yet another one of those things that intrigued and intimidated me at the same time. The idea that I could put paper into the oven without it catching on fire was, I admit, somewhat perplexing. But not nearly as mystifying as where one can actually buy parchment paper.
The baking aisle at the grocery store overwhelms me (as does anything mildly related to baking), and while I assume I could find it there, I’ve never tried. My other loves, Trader Joe’s and Costco, were equally unhelpful. So I did what any home cook with no idea what she’s doing would do. I headed over to Williams-Sonoma.
I love Williams-Sonoma and all that it represents; that is to say that with the proper (albeit overpriced) equipment, the home cook can do anything. And on the day I bought the parchment paper, I also went home with a rolling pin (which I’ve used to make pizza), a slip mat (ditto) and an adorable but still-in-the-box Build-A-Bear cake pan (which may be coming soon to a craigslist.org listing near you). Oh, and the parchment paper, which I used to create a rich, luscious, yet somehow rather low-fat fish that won rave reviews in a limited (okay, two-person) survey.
Every source I consulted for this recipe has the cook cutting the parchment paper into a heart shape, all with a cute note reminding you, the reader, of how you did this in grade school. True or not, I somehow can’t imagine my Gonzo husband, or any red-blooded American male for that matter, voluntarily cutting out hearts prior to cooking a firm fish fillet. To my way of thinking, it’s a rather silly step that only complicates an otherwise simple technique. So in the interest of appealing to ease over cutesiness, I have omitted anything that requires safety scissors. If you feel I’ve denied you the pleasure of channeling your fourth-grade self, by all means, make a heart.
For the rest of us, just cut a large rectangle, approximately 12×15 inches, for each serving. You’ll then fold that in half, place the fish to the side of the fold (I worked on the right side of the fold, you do what you want). Sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the fish (I used tilapia, you could try any white fish or, if you’re feeling fancy, tuna or salmon), fold over the edges until you’ve created a packet of the entire thing and off it goes to the oven.
And there you have it: A self-steaming meal that is amazingly easy; so easy, in fact, that it could basically become your go-to meal on nights when you’re too tired to cook, but not in the mood for cereal (you know who you are).
This dish is so delicious that my Gonzo husband and I merely stared at each other the entire time we were eating, and at the end of each bite exclaimed, “I can’t believe how good this is.” Variations on that sentiment include adding such exclamations as, “really!” “oh my God!” and, quite simply, “wow.”
And that’s the alchemy of cooking. Take simple, low-fat ingredients and an easy technique, and you’ve got something that, to me at least, rivals the buttery goodness of Sole Meuniere, with none of the fat, guilt or midnight Tums that accompanies mass quantities of butter.
Herbed Fish en Papillote
You can serve these golden packets of fish directly at the table if you’d like for an impressive presentation.
4 fish fillets, 5-6 oz. each
4 tbl. fresh basil, chopped
2 tsp. fresh parsley or dill or rosemary
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 large tomato, sliced
1 lemon, juiced, then sliced (retain juice)
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary (or use the remainder of your fresh herbs)
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
2. Prepare your fresh ingredients.
3. Prepare the parchment paper by cutting four 12×15-inch rectangles and folding each in half.
4. Start by opening the parchment paper and placing a single fillet to the side of the fold.
5. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of basil, a ½ teaspoon of parsley or dill, a pinch of salt & pepper and a teaspoon or two of lemon juice.
6. Layer the fish with a few slices each of tomato and lemon. Place a rosemary sprig on top.
7. Create a packet of the fish by starting at the top end of the rectangle and folding over the edges two or three times until you’ve formed a sealed packet.
8. Repeat with the remaining fish fillets.
9. Position the packets on a baking sheet so there’s no overlap; bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets (thicker fillets needs more time in the oven).
10. The packets will puff up and become a delicate toasted brown. Taking care to avoid the steam, open a packet to test the fish; using the tongs of a fork, see if the fish flakes easily, indicating doneness.