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!