Cooking fish sealed in parchment paper, often called en papillote, is a cooking technique that involves enclosing fish and other ingredients in a parchment paper packet or pouch before baking it in the oven. This method allows the fish to steam and self-baste in its own juices while also keeping it incredibly moist and tender. The parchment paper creates a sealed environment that locks in flavor and moisture.
Benefits of Cooking Fish En Papillote
There are several benefits to cooking fish en papillote:
- Moist and tender fish – The parchment paper pouch steams the fish gently in its own juices, keeping it exceptionally moist and tender.
- Intensifies flavor – The sealed environment concentrates and intensifies the flavors of the fish and other ingredients enclosed.
- Healthy cooking – Requires little to no added fat for cooking, allowing for a lighter and healthier meal.
- Easy cleanup – Everything is cooked neatly in the parchment paper, so there are minimal pans to wash up afterwards.
- Fun presentation – Slitting open the parchment packet at the table is a fun, dramatic presentation.
The moist heat environment is perfect for cooking delicate fish fillets of fish like salmon, halibut, cod, and snapper. The parchment paper allows you to infuse lots of flavor into the fish from herbs, citrus, vegetables and other aromatics enclosed in the packet. It’s a simple and foolproof way to get deliciously moist fish every time.
How to Make Parchment Paper Packets
Cooking en papillote starts with preparing the parchment paper into packets or pouches to seal the fish and other ingredients inside. Here are some tips for assembling parchment pouches:
- Cut parchment paper into a heart or oval shape approximately 2x larger than the portion of fish. This allows room for ingredients and folding.
- Place the fish and other ingredients in the center of the parchment paper.
- Fold the parchment over the food in small, tight pleats to seal the edges. Leave room inside for steam circulation.
- Twist and cinch the ends together to fully seal the pouch.
- For extra insurance, tuck the twisted ends under the pouch and place seam side up on the baking sheet.
Be sure the parchment paper pouches are fully sealed to lock in steam and prevent leaks in the oven. Lay them seam side up on a rimmed baking sheet before putting in the hot oven.
Ingredients for Cooking Fish En Papillote
Some suitable ingredients to cook inside the parchment paper pouches with fish include:
- Fresh herbs – Thyme, rosemary, parsley, dill, basil, cilantro
- Citrus fruits – Lemon, lime, orange
- Vegetables – Spinach, kale, tomatoes, onions, carrots, zucchini
- Aromatics – Garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chili peppers
- Spices and seasonings – Salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, coriander
- Liquids – Wine, broth, coconut milk
- Oils – Olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, sesame oil
Use your imagination with combinations of vegetables, fresh herbs, spices, citrus and other flavorful ingredients to infuse the fish packets with dynamic flavors. Keep the ingredients minimal inside each packet so they have room to steam.
Cooking Steps for En Papillote Fish
Follow these simple steps for baking fish en papillote:
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Prepare the parchment paper pouches with fish and other ingredients.
- Arrange pouches seam side up on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness of fish.
- Open packets carefully to allow steam to escape.
- Slide fish and ingredients out onto plates.
Cooking time will vary based on the type and thickness of fish. Aim for around 10 minutes for thin fillets like tilapia or sole, 12-14 minutes for salmon and cod, and up to 15 minutes for thicker fish like halibut or snapper. The fish should flake easily with a fork when it’s ready.
For added flavor, try sprinkling the pouches with fresh herbs or a spice blend before baking. You can also marinate the fish briefly in a mix of oil, citrus juice, herbs, and seasonings before sealing in the parchment.
Tips for Success Cooking En Papillote
Follow these tips to ensure delicious results when cooking fish in parchment paper:
- Use fresh, high-quality fish – This moist cooking method works best with fresh fish fillets or steaks rather than frozen.
- Get an even layer of ingredients – Spread them evenly over the fish inside the pouch to enable even cooking.
- Allow some headspace – Loosely pleat the parchment paper so steam can circulate freely.
- Use a rimmed baking sheet – This will catch any juices that may leak out during cooking.
- Open packets carefully – Hot steam will escape when opened, so open away from your face.
- Resist overcooking – Check fish early and err on the side of undercooking, as the retained heat will continue cooking.
With these simple tricks, your fish en papillote will come out perfectly steamed and moist every time.
Flavor Combinations for Fish En Papillote
One of the best parts of cooking en papillote is experimenting with fun ingredient combinations. Here are some delicious flavor pairings to try:
|Lemon, dill, spinach, onions
|Tomatoes, olives, garlic, herbs de Provence
|Mushrooms, white wine, parsley, shallots
|Coconut milk, chili peppers, lime, cilantro
|Pineapple salsa, red bell pepper, ginger
Mix and match different vegetables, fresh herbs, spices, oils, citrus and other ingredients to make each packet unique. Let your imagination run wild!
Recipe for En Papillote Salmon with Lemon and Dill
This delicious recipe for salmon baked in parchment paper is a wonderful example of how cooking en papillote locks in moisture and flavor.
- 4 (6 oz) salmon fillets
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 8 sprigs of fresh dill
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut 4 large rectangles of parchment paper.
- Season salmon all over generously with salt and pepper. Place one fillet in the center of each parchment rectangle.
- Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over each fillet. Top each with lemon slices and fresh dill sprigs.
- Fold parchment over salmon and crease edges to seal, leaving room for steam circulation. Twist ends to seal completely.
- Place packets seam side up on a baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes until salmon is opaque throughout.
- Remove from oven, cut packets open carefully to allow steam to escape before serving.
The salmon comes out incredibly moist and tender, infused with bright lemon and herby dill flavors. It’s a simple yet elegant meal, perfect for easy weeknight dinners or dinner parties.
Vegetarian En Papillote Ideas
Cooking en papillote works great with all kinds of veggies too. Some delicious vegetarian ingredients to use include:
- Squash – Delicata, butternut, zucchini
- Root vegetables – Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots
- Mushrooms – Cremini, shiitake, oyster, portobello
- Leafy greens – Spinach, kale, chard, cabbage
- Beans and legumes – Chickpeas, lentils, edamame
- Tofu and tempeh
Season generously with fresh herbs, garlic, shallots, citrus, spices and oils for amazing flavor. Serve vegetarian parchment packets as entrees or side dishes.
Cleaning Parchment Paper for Reuse
If you want to be extra eco-friendly, you can wash, dry, and reuse parchment paper several times before recycling. Here’s how:
- Remove any excess food residues by scraping gently with a spatula or rinsing under water.
- Wash parchment paper by hand using cold water and mild soap. Do not use hot water or the paper may fall apart.
- Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with a towel.
- Allow parchment paper to air dry fully spread open before reuse.
With careful washing and drying, parchment paper can usually be reused up to three times before needing to be recycled. Just inspect for any holes, tears or worn areas before reusing.
Storing and Freezing Parcooked Fish En Papillote
You can prep your filled parchment paper pouches in advance for easy weeknight meals. Here are some storage tips:
- Refrigerate pouches up to 2 days – Keep ready-to-cook pouches chilled until baking.
- Freeze up to 3 months – Open the pouches, wrap fish tightly in plastic, and freeze. Defrost before cooking.
- Parcook and freeze – Partially bake the pouches 5 minutes, cool, and freeze. Finish cooking frozen.
With some simple planning, you can enjoy quick baked fish en papillote any night of the week using prepped pouches from the fridge or freezer.
Serving Ideas for Fish En Papillote
Fish cooked en papillote makes for a beautiful presentation. Serve it with:
- Rice or grains – Jasmine, brown rice, quinoa, farro
- Vegetables – Roasted asparagus, grilled zucchini, sautéed spinach
- Sauces – Lemon butter, hollandaise, chimichurri
- Breads – Crusty baguette, rolls, focaccia
- Salads – Arugula, endive, watercress, mixed greens
For easy weeknight meals, try serving the fish pouches with rice pilaf or a simple green salad. For more elegant dining, pair it with vegetable sides, buttery sauces, and fresh baked bread.
Troubleshooting Cooking Fish En Papillote
Use these tips to troubleshoot any issues when cooking fish in parchment paper:
|Fish is undercooked
|Bake a few more minutes until fish flakes. Check it early next time.
|Fish is overcooked and dry
|Don’t bake as long next time. Every oven varies.
|Pouch leaks liquid during baking
|Make sure seams are thoroughly sealed. Use extra parchment paper.
|Ingredients didn’t infuse flavor
|Make sure to spread ingredients evenly over fish before sealing pouch.
|Burnt or smoking pouches
|Reduce oven temperature 25°F next time.
With practice, you’ll learn exactly how long your oven takes to steam the fish perfectly. It’s hard to overcook with this very gentle steaming method.
En Papillote Fish on the Grill
You can also cook parchment paper fish packets on an outdoor grill for added flavor. Simply follow these tips:
- Use double layers of parchment paper to prevent burning.
- Soak the pouches briefly before grilling to reduce risk of fire.
- Grill over direct medium heat, turning once, for 8-12 minutes.
- Move pouches to indirect heat if they start to burn.
- Watch heat carefully and rotate pouches for even cooking.
The smoky flavor from the grill gives another dimension to the usual oven cooking method. Just take care not to burn the pouches over direct high heat.
Cooking fish en papillote, or sealed in parchment paper pouches, is a simple and healthy cooking technique. The pouches create a self-contained environment for gently steaming fish to tender, moist perfection. Infusing the fish with fresh herbs, citrus, vegetables and aromatics adds big flavor. Preparing the parchment packets is easy and cleanup is minimal. Once you get the baking time right for your oven, you’ll be able to make fantastic parchment-baked fish any night of the week. Experiment with different fish varieties and ingredient combinations for delicious, fuss-free meals everyone will love.