Fish baked in a pouch. Sounds eh, doesn’t it? Well how about Thyme and Lemon Butter Cod en Papillote with Leeks and Purple Haze Carrots? Suit your fancy? Did mine when I came across a variant in Cook’s Illustrated.
I am rediscovering food magazines. While in the past I’ve enjoyed pouring over the porn, I’m now relishing the cooking technique mags. Cook’s Illustrated attempts to bridge the gap between the home and professional kitchen recipes/techniques, and with great success. Developing new techniques is more liberating than finding a tasty recipe and following it as though your life depended on it.
The recipes are honed through hours of testing, ample pocket money (an author in the issue boasted spending $1200 to perfect tenderloin), and shameless uses of cottage cheese and the microwave. The end goal is excellent taste while still keeping an eye on calories and cost.
The fish en papillote concept seemed like a good tool to have in my cooking repertoire. I’d avoided the recipe previously because 1) it’s unforgivably French, 2) I hate being served folded parchment, 3) I hate the idea of folding parchment. Tinfoil, however, is durable enough to be doable. Once you realize you’re basically creating a pouch to steam the fish (a cousin of the microwave popcorn bag), you can imagine that the type of fish/vegetables that would suit the technique are firm and flavorful.
I have altered the recipe slightly to suit my taste after the first try (slightly more herb and less liquid than it called for). I found the fish and vegetables to be incredibly tender, and surprisingly flavorful given the simplicity of ingredients involved. I suggest pairing with a side dish or simple salad and maybe finishing off the bottle of white that you purchased for the occasion. I know, not usually a white drinker, right? Well don’t be a dud and get a $7 bottle, it’ll only make the fish taste bad. I purchased a nice little Sauvignon Blanc for $13.
Once you’ve got the basics, you can substitute different herbs (tarragon, dill, rosemary, basil, etc), firm and delicate vegetables (fennel, mild onions, zucchini, or tomatoes), and fish (haddock, flounder, halibut, sole) with slightly varying cooking times.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (remainder lemon cut into wedges*)
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme, minced
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon for garnish Italian parsley, minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 medium carrots, washed, peeled, and cut into matchsticks** (about 1 cup)
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, soaked in cold water to remove grit, and cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon dry white wine or vermouth
2 skinless cod fillets, 1 inch thick (about 6 ounces)
Freshly ground black pepper
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and turn to 450 degrees.
Combine butter, 1/4 the lemon zest, all the thyme, half the garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
Combine parsley, the remaining 3/4 of the zest and the remaining half of the garlic in another small bowl; set aside.
Toss vegetables in a bowl with salt and pepper.
Cut four 12-inch sheets of tin foil. Arrange two on free counter space. Heap carrot and leek mixture evenly in the middle of each sheet, making a bed for the fish. Pour the wine (or vermouth) evenly over the vegetables.
Pat fish dry; season with salt and pepper. Place fillets atop the vegetables. Place half the butter mixture on top of each fillet. Cover with remaining tinfoil. Fold the edges over 1 inch. Fold the edge in half and then half again. You’re making a seal so when the pouch fills with steam in the oven it will not open. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes. Remove and open the tinfoil away from your face. Using a spatula, remove the fish and vegetables onto plates along with any juice. Sprinkle with parsley mixture and serve with lemon wedges.
* If you remove the pith from the ridge of each lemon wedge it will squirt without spraying everywhere.
** Here’s an easy how-to for making julienne. Basically cut the carrot into roughly 2 inch long rectangular segments (even width and depth are key here, not length). Cut each rectangle into 1/8 inch planks. Cut the plants into 1/8 inch matchsticks. Voila.