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Fish en Papillote (in Paper)

Fish en Papillote (in Paper)

This incredibly aromatic dish is the result of steam and fresh ingredients blending together in paper—creating a sauce without adding fat.

"This seafood dish is on the patient menu, something we’re extremely proud of,” says Ryan Conklin, executive chef, Rex Healthcare, Raleigh, NC. “The big point of en papillote is to get its aroma wafting through the air. It's a flavorful cooking method in which you’re not adding a lot of fat or oil.”

Fish en Papillote (in Paper) is a classic French preparation. “En Papillote” (pronounced EN pa-pee-YAWT) means cooked in a paper wrapper. The word papillote comes from the French word for butterfly, “papillon,” and the paper is, in fact, a bit butterfly-shaped before folding.

Conklin's version is Mediterranean Tilapia En Papillote, but salmon, snapper, cod or sole would work just as well, as would just about any appropriate combination of herbs and vegetables.

1. Cast of characters: fresh farm raised tilapia filet (sliced in half on the bias), extra virgin olive oil, capers, red onions, Kalamata olives, fresh oregano (must be fresh for the aroma and the milder flavor), cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced lemons (almost paper-thin, so it’s an edible piece of the dish that melts), dry white wine (could use fish or chicken stock or lemon juice or any citrus juice as a substitution), and blanched green beans (blanching keeps them green and gives them a head start on cooking).

2. Cut a heart- or shield-shaped piece of parchment paper (you could also use aluminum foil). Pile two pieces of fish and layer with green beans, olives, lemon, onions and oregano, evenly spreading around. Drizzle the olive oil and white wine—just a splash of each. “That’s what keeps everything moist, aromatic and creates the steam for the fish to cook in,” Conklin says. “If you just put water in there, it would be very bland.”

3. Place the tilapia on one side of the half of the “heart shape,” and then crimp the sides together, creating a tight seal on each fold, to stop the steam from escaping. Make sure each fold creates a nice seal. It takes practice, but it’s not too different from folding a paper airplane: you have to make sure those folds are really crisp.  

4. Place them on a sheet pan. You don’t need to cover. Put in a preheated 375°F oven for 12 minutes. The worst thing you can do it this point is to open it up to check on it. It’s 12 minutes.

5. Coming out of the oven, the paper has a charred look. Don’t let the charred look scare you. It’s perfect. At this point, you should see that the steam has created a dome. Don’t poke at the dome, as steam could get out. It should stay like that until it is served. In classic French cuisine, the waiter would bring this out to the table and cut open the side and let the aroma and steam waft up to the diner. In the healthcare world, we have some limitations.

6. What we do is open it up, transfer it to plate and pour the juices right over the top, immediately placing a lid on top before it’s brought up to room service. When the lid is removed, the patient will get the aroma.

7. Garnish with micro greens at the point of service, after the big reveal. All the flavors together create a harmonious dish.

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