En papillote or nel cartoccio, cooking in parchment a simple technique with delicious results!

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of cooking a special dinner for a really sweet couple celebrating their first anniversary. I love doing dinners like this, it is such an honor to be a part of a special occasion!

When planning the menu, the husband shared that his wife loved vegetables and seafood and I suggested Mahi-Mahi cooked in parchment with tomatoes, artichokes, lemon and olives. He said it sounded delicious, but his concern was about a lingering fishy smell that often occurs when cooking fish at home, especially since many homes have poor ventilation systems!
I explained that cooking in parchment is a wonderful way to prepare fish, any seafood really, chicken, and vegetables as it contains the steam inside the packet cooking the food gently and keeping most of the aromas inside the packet while it cooks.

Cooking in packets is not a novel concept. In France it is known as en papillote, in Italian, nel cartoccio, (both mean “in parchment”) to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts it’s simply cooking in packets, though they usually use foil which is more sturdy over the campfire! It is a simple way to cook with delicious results!

The technique begins with parchment paper that is readily found in most grocery stores these days. You will need about a foot long piece of parchment per portion. I fold mine in half and cut a half a heart shape (like cutting a Valentine), but you can leave them as rectangles or even gather the corners of the packets up and tie them with a piece of green onion.

Brush the bottom of the parchment with a drizzle of oil and place the protein in the center of one half. Arrange the vegetables on top in an organized way (you will see them when you open the packet to serve), drizzle with a bit more oil and some liquid like broth or wine and then seal the packets. This is an important step because you need to make sure it is well sealed to keep all the steam inside.

To seal the packet begin at the beginning of one edge and make a small fold and crease well, overlap a second fold (sort of like a flower petal) and crease again. Proceed the whole way around until you reach the end which you can twist tightly or use a staple to secure it.

Slide the packets onto a cookie sheet and bake according to the recipe.

The packets will begin to brown on the edges which is fine. If you are cooking fish, I check it after about 15 minutes by poking a sharp knife through the packet, it should go right through the fish easily, or you can check the temperature of the fish with an instant read thermometer that should read about 125º-130º.

You can remove the food from the packets onto a plate, but that usually messes up the presentation and allows all the juices in the packet to flood your plate. I prefer to transfer the packets onto each individual plate and open the top with a knife by cutting an X in the top and peeling back the points.

A beautiful and delicious dinner!

The results are moist, flavorful and delicious AND… no fishy smell in the house!

Here is a simple recipe for the Mediterranean Fish en Papillote that I fixed last night. I hope you give it a try!

Mediterranean Fish en Papillote

4 firm fillets — 6-ounces each such as Mahi Mahi, Halibut, Cod, Swordfish
2 Roma tomatoes — sliced
16 basil leaves — chiffonade (sliced in thin ribbons)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons butter
2 lemons — sliced in circles
1 can artichoke hearts in water — (14 ounce) drained & quartered
1/4 cup Kalamata or other black olives — pitted and sliced
1 Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper — to taste
1-2 Tb. dry white wine, such as Pinot Gris

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper into 1-foot squares and place on a flat surface. Fold the paper in half, then fold back open. Just below the fold, drizzle a bit of olive oil. Place one or two pieces of yellowtail filet (depending on the size). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with two lemon slices, a quartered artichoke heart, 1/2 to 1 T. sliced olives, about 1 t. capers, a generous pinch of basil chiffonade and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and the wine. Fold the parchment over the ingredients. Starting at one folded end, fold the edges over itself in a running fold, continuing all the way around the edge to the other fold. Twist the end to seal, or secure it with a paperclip (remove clip before serving). Place packages on baking sheet and bake until the packages puff and fish is opaque, about 15-20 minutes.

Transfer packages to plates. Allow each guest to open his or her own package at the table. Serve with lemon wedges.

Note: I prepare the packages and keep them refrigerated until ready to bake.

If you really can’t find parchment, you can also use a brown paper lunch bag, pile the food in the bag and roll the top down, creasing tightly, Just be very careful moving the bag off the cookie sheet as the bottoms tend to give way! Use a BIG spatula and slide it quickly!


Pork Tenderloin with Poached Plums= YUM!

As much as I try to fight it, fall really is here and the kids are back to school, and we have begun the crazy, hectic running around schedule that most American families share. Between our son’s soccer practice that ended at 5 and our daughter’s dance rehearsal that started at 6, we were able to sit down to this incredibly delicious dinner that was done in about 30 minutes. It was a fast and easy recipe that is so beautiful, it’s nice enough for company!

I found this recipe for a class that I taught at our local Cornell Cooperative Extension that focused on quick recipes using seasonal ingredients. People usually think of apples as the quintessential fall fruit and the perfect pairing with pork, but at this time of the year, plums are bountiful, really juicy and delicious and they make a perfect accompaniment to the pork. The poached plums alone are fabulous and I made extra so that I could have some leftover to eat for lunch today! YUM!

Pork tenderloin is a wonderful quick cooking dinner for a weeknight. The technique is simple which is to heat your pan until it’s really hot, use a drizzle of a neutral oil, such as canola, season your tenderloin well with salt and pepper and then sear it for just a minute or two on each side so it gets nicely browned and then finish it in a hot oven where the heat circulates around the meat instead of just the direct heat of the skillet. (Note here, make sure your skillet is oven-proof so that you don’t melt your handles or ruin your pan! Every kitchen should have at least one large pan that can go stove-top to oven. Another note: DON’T try to brown meat in a non-stick skillet, it won’t work effectively and you’ll end up with gray meat! ) Allow the pork to sit on a cutting board under a loose tent of foil for 5 minutes while you get everything else ready to allow the juices to redistribute before slicing it.

The only funky ingredient in the recipe is the star anise. It can be tricky to find in the local grocery store, but you may be able to find it in an Asian grocery or you can easily order it online like I did from Penzey’s Spices. It has a strong anise flavor which is not something that I like on it’s own, but when steeped in things like red wine, it adds are really complex and delicious note without tasting like a black licorice whip.

This got a thumbs up all the way around our dinner table last night and I hope you enjoy it too!

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Poached Plums
(adapted from Bon Appetit 2007)

6 sweet firm red or black plums, about 2 pounds, quartered, pitted
2 cups Pinot Gris or Viognier
1 cup dry red wine
2 whole star anise*
cinnamon stick
1/4 cup plus 1 1/4 teaspoons sugar, divided
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
5 fresh thyme sprigs plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme, divided
2 tablespoons chopped shallot

2 1 1/4-pound pork tenderloins
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Chopped fresh chives

For Plums:
Combine plums, white wine and red wine, the star anise and cinnamon stick, and 1/4 cup sugar in heavy large saucepan; bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat; simmer until plums are tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer plums to platter. Strain wine mixture.
Return strained liquid to same saucepan. Add broth, thyme sprigs, and shallot. Boil until mixture is reduced to 1 cup, about 25 minutes. Stir in 1 1/4 teaspoons sugar and chopped thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

DO AHEAD:Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover plums and sauce separately; chill. Bring plums to room temperature; re-warm sauce over medium heat.

For Pork:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush pork with 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle with thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until brown on all sides, turning often, about 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven, and roast pork until thermometer inserted into center registers 140F, about 20 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and let pork stand 10 minutes tented with foil. Cut pork crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve with poached plums and sauce. Sprinkle with chopped chives.

*Available in the spice section of some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Asian markets.