After my recent Dinner Party Tips post, a lot of people have been asking me for recipe ideas. Hands down, my favorite go-to, look super fancy, make completely ahead, zero cleanup recipe is to cook fish en papillote. (Oh, by the way, it’s DELICIOUS too!!) The best part is that you can use whatever fish, vegetables, and seasonings you like to make the meal unique and your own.
Fish en papillote is a method of steaming fish in a parchment envelope. (“En papillote” means “in parchment” in french. Bonus points, now you’re throwing a FRENCH dinner party!) There are myriad reasons why this method is amazing, from juicy, succulent fish, to flavorful veggies, to a show-stopper table presentation that includes the theatrical unwrapping of your own personal envelope of deliciousness. But let’s be honest, the top two reasons to use this trick are: 1. 100% pre-prep – as in, you can make this completely well before your guests arrive, and slip the baking sheet into the oven 15 minutes before you want to eat. And 2: Zero clean up – as in, crumple up the parchment paper and throw it away. Ok, maybe you’ll have to rinse off the baking sheet. Maybe.
Step 1: Tare off a sheet of parchment paper, about 4x as wide as your fish. Folded in half, you want the paper to be twice as big as your fish and veggies. Fold the sheet in half, and cut into a rough heart shape (this lets you really twist the bottom and seal the envelope well).
Step 2: About 1″ from the fold, place your veggies, fish, seasonings, etc in the envelope. I like to put the veggies on the bottom so as the fish cooks, the fat and juice drips down onto the vegetables. Then place the fish on top of the vegetables, then top with your herbs, seasonings and/or sauce.
Step 3: Starting at the top of the heart, fold/crimp the paper edges together, working around to the bottom of the heart. Make sure it’s folded securely and there’s no gaps for steam to escape through. At the bottom of the heart, give it a good twist. I usually go around a second time and crimp the edges again, just to make sure they’re very tight.
Step 4: Place your stuffed envelopes on a baking sheet, and cook for 13 or so minutes at 325. The parchment paper will puff up when it’s done, and will start to brown a little. If you need to open the envelope to check, just peek in the bottom. (Be careful! Very hot steam can burn you while you’re taking a look.) If you need to put it back in the oven, seal it with a metal binder clip or a wooden clothes pin so the steam can build again.
Step 5: When it’s done, carefully open the envelope and slide everything onto a plate.
Step 6: Eat, and try to be modest when everyone swoons over your super fancy dinner.
There are lots of recipes out there for fish en papillote, but really, all you need to do is pick some vegetables that you like to eat, pick some fish, then top with the flavorings of your choice. Cook time is about 12 minutes, so it’s best to pick vegetables that cook quickly – like leafy greens, asparagus, green beans, etc. Shy away from stuff like broccoli or root vegetables, they’ll never cook in time. Fish should be portioned out into individual size pieces – a good rule of thumb is 1/3 lb of protein per person for normal eaters, 1/2 lb for big appetites. Flavor can be added through fresh or dry herbs, fruit, sauces, or even marinades. If using a lighter fish (like tilapia or flounder) add a drizzle of olive oil. Fattier fish, like salmon, have their own delicious oil and don’t need any extra. Simply place or pour on top of the pile of veggies and fish. Here are some ideas:
Classic: lemon slices, fresh dill, a sprinkle of brown sugar, salt and pepper, and place it on a bed of asparagus.
Asian: mix together a little soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, grated garlic and grated ginger. Or use a teriyaki sauce or marinade. Baby bok choy, baby choy sum, snow peas, bell peppers, and sugar snap peas work really well with this cooking method and flavor profile.
Italian: add a few spoonfuls of canned Italian stewed tomatoes on top of your fish, and maybe a few springs of fresh parsley or basil.
Most Delicious Ever: Maple Glaze, Salmon, Kale, and Bok Choy. (See below. And you may as well make the Mustard Mashed Potatoes, too.)
I can guarantee that you will not mess this up, and that your significant other, kids, in-laws, and/or snooty dinner guests will be thoroughly impressed. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. Enjoy!
Maple Salmon and Bok Choy en Papillote
Click here to print this recipe.
Time to prepare: 25 minutes
3/4 – 1 lb salmon filet, cut into two equal portions
6 baby bok choy, sliced in half lengthwise
2 cups kale, de-stemmed and cut into bite-size pieces
1 recipe Maple Glaze (see below)
Preheat the oven to 325.
Prepare the two equal portions of kale, bok choy, and salmon on your parchment hearts. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of glaze on top of each piece of fish.
Fold your parchment envelopes closed, making sure the edges are completely sealed. Place the two envelopes on a baking sheet and bake 13 minutes, or until the fish is done.
(Note: you can prepare the envelopes well in advance and keep in the fridge until you’re read to bake.)
Time to prepare: 15 minutes
Serves: Sauces 4 pieces of meat
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 clove garlic, pressed, grated or minced
In a small heavy saucepan simmer all the ingredients until it’s reduced in half to a nice syrup consistency, about 10 minutes.
Mustard Mashed Potatoes
Click here to print this recipe.
Time to prepare: 20 minutes
3 large baking potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 (or more) cup whole milk, half and half, or heavy cream
2 tablespoons mustard, preferably course grain, whole grain, or dijon
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1″ chunks
Place in a large pot, and cover with water. Add a few large pinches of kosher salt. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes, or until a knife pierces the potatoes easily and they are cooked through.
Drain the water, and either return the potatoes to the pot and mash, or use a ricer or food mill to mash.
Stir in the butter, cream, and mustard, and add more cream to achieve the desired creaminess, and more mustard to get the desirable tang. Season with salt and pepper as needed.
This above menu comes together in a half hour. Follow this timeline:
Preheat the oven.
Peel and dice the potatoes and get them on the stove to start boiling.
Wash and trim your vegetables and fish.
Prep your parchment envelopes and place them on a baking sheet.
When the potatoes are done cooking, put the baking sheet in the oven for 12 minutes.
Mash and season the potatoes.
Take the fish out of the oven and serve!
Do ahead: prep the fish completely, up to the step where the envelopes are stuffed and sealed. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Mashed potatoes can be made an hour in advance, and kept in a bowl, covered, fitted over a sauce pan with simmering water in it (like a double boiler setup). Or make them the day before and heat in a sauce pan, adding more cream to achieve desired creaminess.