Fish on Fridays

August 3, 2012

Food writer and cooking instructor Christine Rudalevige is a mother of two who recently navigated a family move from agriculturally rich central Pennsylvania to coastal Maine. Eating locally now means more fish on the dinner table. In this biweekly column, she explores family-friendly ways to enjoy sustainable seafood.

This week: Christine explains why cooking fish in a paper pouch is a very good thing.

- Christine

The Sanity of Small Bundles

Back before the tech bubble burst and print media started its rapid descent, I wrote full-time for an IT publication that, under the guise of fostering an upbeat team morale, would hold annual blow-out editorial meetings in very cool venues. But before the bar opened in the swank Harvard Square Hotel or in a posh colonial inn retreat on Cape Cod, there was always one of those "get to know you" ice-breaking games in the conference room.

When it was my turn during one of these competitions to submit one truth and two lies about myself to my colleagues so they could discern how well they did or didn’t really know me at all, half my colleagues misguessed that I’d jumped out of a plane for a story (it was an article about a stunt pilot and I stayed strapped into the Piper Cub, giggling like a teenage girl while he did barrel rolls and hammerhead stalls). The other half believed I’d actually dated Saul Bellow, only 52 years my senior (I fancied his son actually, a fellow reporter, at my first newspaper gig). Not one of them could fathom that I was a secret scrapbooker.

But in a moment of recent self-reflection, as I moved the unopened box of scrappin’ paraphernalia -- since replaced by photo books -- so that I could get at my tart tins, I made the connection between neatly organized, creative scrapbook pages and fish cooked in parchment: I’m a sucker for a neatly wrapped bundle. Whether that package is a curated page of photos of a trip to the beach with my kids that captures all of the frolicking in the surf and none of the sand in the peanut butter sandwiches, or a complete meal cooked for 10 minutes in a piece of tightly folded paper, it strikes my neat and tidy inner core.

The French refer to the process as cooking "en papillote." The Italians have dubbed a similar preparation -- sometimes adding pasta to the mix -- as "al cartaccio." I call my family early to dinner. In 20 minutes, I can employ this forgiving technique to put a completely contained, very-little-clean-up-required, delicious supper on the table.

In my new environs, I’ve been working on a basic recipe for perfect little bundles of sustainable white, flaky fish with julienned vegetables and white wine (see below). But I’ve also been playing with all sorts of combinations:  salmon, thinly sliced radishes, lemon, and tarragon; shrimp, avocado, coconut milk, lime, and black beans; and scallops with fennel, tomatoes, parsley, and cannellini beans.

By tailoring the ingredients to your own likes and dislikes, you can experiment with combinations of lean proteins, veggies, legumes, herbs, acids, and oils, sealing them up tightly with a series of origami-like folds, and baking them at high heat, effectively steaming the ingredients in their own juices.

To ensure "en papillote" success:

  • Fully preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Use pieces of fish that are of a similar size.
  • Similarly, cut your vegetables uniformly thin.
  • Always make sure a fat -- olive oil, most often -- sits between the fish and the top of the parchment, so that nothing sticks to anything else.
  • If preparing bundles in advance (up to eight hours is perfectly safe), store them in a single layer in the fridge to avoid the aforementioned sticky issue.
  • Make certain parchment folds are airtight.
  • Warn eaters to gingerly open the bundles as the escaping steam is very hot.
  • Always have crusty bread on hand to sop up the glorious juices accumulated in the bottom of the bundle.

Basic Recipe for Fish en Papillote

This is only a starting point, upgrade at will.

Serves four

4 (6-ounce) pieces of sustainably obtained fish
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups of julienned vegetables (carrots, leeks, green beans, bell peppers, asparagus, zucchini for example)
Salt and pepper
Good olive oil

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Like this post? See Christine's previous topic: The Lure of the Lobster.

Photos by Christine Rudalevige.

Christine Rudalevige is a food writer and mother of two who always fits in three square meals a day -- which occasionally means making up for a skipped breakfast with an ample late-night refrigerator raid.


2 Comments Add a Comment
  • Img_2839

    solitarycook says: What a lovely story. Parchment bundles are among my most favorite ways of creating presents of fish and vegetables.

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Cheese_for_twitter0001

    cheese1227 says: solitarycook -- I would love to know what your favorite combinations are!

    about 1 year ago

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