Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fancy fish for the not-so-fancy

Cooking fish was not one of my favorite things to do. It never came out how I wanted it to. So I avoided it. I would always order fish at restaurants instead. I could never get my own fish to taste like it did at those places. I figured they had some special chef secrets about fish that I would never know -- and I was partially right-- there are secrets! And my lovely husband got me a ticket to a cooking class all about fish, so that I (and/or he) could finally enjoy fish at home, and now that I have tried and tested what I learned, I am going to share those secrets with you! Today, I'm going to talk about Fish "En Papillote." Oooo, sounds fancy right? It looks fancy and tastes fancy, but it's so easy to do! It literally means "in a package," which is made out of foil or parchment paper in this case (I use the paper in the pictures, but no worries if you only have foil, it will actually be easier to fold).

This is all about the prep work; the fish cooks in 12 minutes flat, so all the work is on the front end. There are three pieces to the dish: 1) the fish 2) the vegetables and 3) the pesto. You have a lot of flexibility to what you put in the recipe, so you can make lots of different variations and not get bored. I'll give you a sample of what I made, and you can feel free to change it up.

Cod (or haddock, or halibut, or even salmon) En Papillote

4 5-oz pieces of fish
a few small potatoes, sliced thinly (about 1/8 of an inch)
half an onion, also cut 1/8 of an inch
a dozen brussels sprouts (or zucchini, or asparagus), cut in quarters
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to your taste

and for the pesto
1 bunch of parsley (take all the stems out if you can)
1 clove of garlic
1 handful of any kind of nuts you like (i used walnuts)
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to your taste

For the pesto, just whirr all those ingredients, except the oil, together in a food processor until they are all mixed and chopped up a bit (I suggest chopping the garlic clove into a few pieces first or you'll get big chunks.) A few pulses will to the trick. Then put the switch to on (so it automatically goes without you having to hold it), and add a little olive oil drizzle into the top while the machine is running. Once the mixture holds together like a paste, stop the whirring! And taste it, to make sure it tastes good. The garlic will be a little strong at this point because it is raw, but after it is cooked on the fish it will taste great. Set this aside.

And now for the fish - and the tricks! The first thing you want to do is make sure your fish pieces are all about the same size, because that way they will cook at the same rate. I know what you are thinking, one part of the fish is way skinnier because it has the tail end, which is always small. Not to worry! Just fold this part under the rest of a piece of fish to mimic the thickness of the other pieces. It definitely works (I was skeptical too). Put salt and pepper on your fish filets, and let them rest for a few minutes while you prepare the veggies.

The vegetables can simply be whatever you like to eat and whatever you think will go with your fish. However, there are a few rules: 1. they must be thinly sliced and 2. they must be something that is not too easy to overcook (ie, snow peas) because they will be steaming for 12 minutes or so. Snap peas might be ok, but the thin snow ones will get soggy. I have used: cherry tomatoes sliced in half, zucchini, onions, potatoes, brussels sprouts, and broccoli and all have been successful, so if you like any of those, go for it.

Once you cut the veggies, toss them in a bowl with a few tablespoons (2-3) of olive oil and salt and pepper to your taste.

Now you are ready for the assembly!

Step 1: Cut your parchment paper or foil into the shape of a very big heart. Do this by the "valentine method" of folding the paper over in half, and cutting a half heart into it (a moon will work too). You will want to err on the side of BIG, because too small of a heart and you won't be able to fit the fish in there.

Step 2: open the heart with the folded side facing away from you, and lay a few vegetables on the half of the heart that is on the countertop (toward the big end, not the pointy end). Place one fish fillet on top of the veggies, and then top that with some of your pesto (1 tbsp or so). Like so...

Step 3: Now comes the crafty part. Fold the heart back over so it is in half like it was when you cut it (or just let it drop back down on top of the fish if you've been holding that half up while you were assembling it) and begin crimping the paper from the pointy bottom end of the heart. Fold the parchment over itself a little, then fold that part a little over the next piece, creasing with your finger as you go. You want to make sure you create a seal, so as long as you are able to join the two sides together, you don't have to worry about it being too big or wonky looking. That is the fun of it. See below:

Step 4: Put all the "papillotes" onto a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for exactly 12 minutes. Make sure you put a timer on.

Step 5: Take out of the oven and serve, exactly as is, in the pouch. It is really fun to open and eat out of, and makes clean up a lot easier.

Go now into the world of well-cooked fish; you will be so excited once you try this and realize how easy and delicious it is. Restaurant quality at home -- finally!