Cooking fish in papillote – cooking in paper – is a classic French cooking technique. You don’t need to use parchment paper. Aluminum foil works fine too. It’s a self-contained steaming method, locking in flavors and making clean-up a breeze.
I used whole pompano but I wrote the recipe below to use any white fish fillet, such as sole, striped bass, or snapper. We stopped in a major-league Asian supermarket and they had beautiful pompano for cheap, cheap, cheap. It’s a great fish, with white, slightly oily flesh. If you can find it, I recommend it but if you cook them whole, you are in for a little surgery. Their bones are big and there are no pin bones at all, which makes them easier to eat than trout. But, if you don’t like dealing with bones, stick to fillets. That said, fillets are perfectly delicious prepared this way.
This recipe grew out of one in Mark Bittman’s Fish. His recipe is pretty classic with pine nuts, shallots, and lemon juice. I had also bought some beautiful fresh shiitakes at the Asian mega-mart (again, cheap, cheap, cheap) and wanted to use them. Which led me to an Asian spin on the classic recipe.
My experiment can guide you on your own variations of the classic recipe. Use a different fat, preferably something tasty like butter, good olive oil, even bacon fat. Switch out the mushrooms for another quick cooking vegetable (or julienne it to speed up cooking – good for carrots). Instead of rice vinegar, use another acid such as lemon or lime juice, or another type of vinegar. You get the idea. It’s a great way to throw together a tasty fish dish.
Asian Fish in Papillote
4 Tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted in a dry pan until golden-brown
a little oil for greasing the foil
4 6-8 oz white fish fillets, such as sole, bass, or snapper
salt and pepper
10 fresh shiitakes, trimmed of stems and sliced
4 Tablespoons finely minced shallots or onions or scallions
4 Tablespoons chicken stock or dry white wine
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
4 Tablespoons chopped parsley or chopped cilantro
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Tear off 12″ long pieces of foil for wrapping the fish. Drizzle a little bit of oil onto the foil and spread it around to the size of your fish fillets. This helps to keep the fish from sticking to the foil.
Place a fillet on a piece of foil where you oiled it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add ¼ of the shiitakes, onions, wine or stock, oil, vinegar, and herbs on top of the fish. Sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with ¼ of the sliced almonds. Wrap up so the seam is up to prevent leakage and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining fillets.
Place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes. If you fillets are thick, you might have to go a bit longer. If you want to use this recipe for whole fish like I did, you will need to bake them for at least 30 minutes.
Serve in their packets. For the maximum effect, don’t open the packets until they are on the plate in front of you. The smell when you open the packet is incredible.