Food & Dining
Cooking salmon en papillote
(Editor’s note: The dawn of 2014 brings a lot of promises of eating healthier. Whether they stick or not, is another question, but chef Sara Moulton offers a healthy salmon recipe to start the new year.)
Fish en papillote is the elegant-sounding name of a staple recipe of classic French cuisine. Translated into English, it becomes the much less elegant-sounding — "fish in a bag." By any name, however, this method of baking fish is a smash.
Typically, the fish is combined with vegetables and herbs, some butter or oil, and often some wine. All of this is wrapped up in a piece of kitchen parchment and baked. The parchment keeps the flavor and moisture trapped inside during cooking, allowing the juices from the fish and the other ingredients to mingle and become a wonderful sauce.
And because the parchment is stick-resistant, the recipe requires very little fat. The small amount of oil in this recipe is there for taste and texture only.
If you add vegetables, they'll need to be pre-cooked. The denser vegetables — such as carrots and broccoli — simply won't have time to get tender during the 10 to 12 minutes of cooking needed by the salmon. Similarly, if wetter veggies — such as mushrooms and spinach — aren't pre-cooked, they'll release too much liquid in the packet and water down the sauce.
The only tricky part about cooking en papillote is that you can't see when the fish is done. If you slice open the bag, you risk losing some of the delicious sauce that's coming together. My solution is to start with the basic rule of baking fish: In a 400 F oven, give it 10 minutes of cooking time for every inch of thickness.
When I'm ready to test whether the fish is done, I stick a very sharp thin knife right through the parchment and down through the fish. No or little resistance? The fish is done. Significant resistance? Bake it for a few more minutes. And by the way, this test works well regardless of how you cook the fish.
Salmon baked in a bag with citrus, olives and chilies
Start to finish: 35 minutes Servings: 4
• 1 small orange • 1 lemon • Four skinless 6-ounce center cut salmon fillet pieces • 1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary • Kosher salt • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil • 1/3 cup pitted and chopped olives, preferably oil-cured • 1/2 serrano chili, thinly sliced crosswise
Heat the oven to 400 F.
Cut the orange and lemon in half crosswise. Thinly slice 1/2 of the orange and 1/2 of the lemon into thin slices. Juice the remaining halves of both fruits.
Set a 24-inch-long sheet of kitchen parchment on a baking sheet. Fold the sheet in half across the short side, then open the folded parchment (like a book), leaving one half of it on the baking sheet. Arrange about half of the orange and lemon slices in a single layer in the center of the parchment on the baking sheet.
Sprinkle half the rosemary over the citrus slices. Set the salmon over the rosemary, then sprinkle with salt, the citrus juices and oil. Top each piece of salmon with a quarter of the remaining rosemary and citrus slices.
Fold the second half of the parchment over the fish, then crimp and fold the edges together to create a sealed packet. Bake — on the sheet pan — on the oven's middle shelf for 10 to 12 minutes, or until just cooked through (stick a paring knife through the parchment and salmon; it should move easily through the fish if done).
Cut open the parchment, discard the citrus slices from the top of the salmon, then place each piece on a serving plate. Spoon some of the olives, chilies, rosemary and juices over each piece.
(Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners.")