Friday, January 9, 2009

Fish in Parchment...It's what's for dinner.

The French call it 'en papillote'. I call it an easy dinner.

Years ago I was asked to teach a cooking class to a group of women in Marin. I showed up thinking it was a hands on class but, when they all gave me that 'no touchy' look, I realized I was going to be doing all the cooking. I pulled it off because I'd developed this simple recipe that anyone can make, especially on a weeknight if you have a bit of prep time early in the day.

The method of cooking fish, or anything for that matter, in parchment paper is a great one. It is essentially steaming without the fancy steamer, rack, etc. I love it for fish because it is really hard to screw up. It is a fool-proof way to keep your fish moist and juicy. The icing on the cake is opening the parchment when you eat it. The aromas that come from that little paper package are amazing!

I've used this French method with Asian ingredients to create my Fish in Parchment recipe. If you cook half as well as two of my students in class last week, I have no doubt your fish will be delicious. You will love this recipe as much as I do for a couple of reasons...First, you can assemble the whole thing in about 30 minutes and you can do it about 6 hours in advance. Second, it works with any fish-buy what you like, what's in season, and what works with your budget. The only tricky part of this recipe might be folding the parchment. If you're having trouble you can easily Google 'en papillote' and there are videos and pictures galore to help you. If you have no parchment, foil works in a pinch but I think there is a lot more drama on the plate when you use the parchment (and that's important, right?!).

Asian Style Fish in Parchment

6 medium snapper fillets, 6-8 ounces each (any fish will do-just keep it 1" or thinner)
½ cup dry sherry or dry white wine
¼ cup oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce (more if desired)
1 teaspoon Asian chili paste (I like Sambal Oelek but Sriracha works well too), optional
¼ cup honey
1 pound mixed mushrooms (such as Shitake, Oyster, Button and/or Crimini), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
¼ cup minced fresh ginger
¼ cup minced fresh garlic
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
6 pieces of cooking parchment, about 12 x 12 inches

Season both sides of fish fillets with salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. In a small bowl mix together sherry, oyster sauce, soy sauce, chili paste and honey. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt and sauté over medium high heat for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic and ginger and continue cooking until very fragrant, up to 5 minutes. Turn heat to medium and add sauce mixture. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half and quite thick, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with soy, salt and/or pepper and remove from heat. Cool to room temp if making in advance.

Fold each piece of parchment paper in half and brush melted butter on bottom half. On the bottom half of the paper, place one of the fish fillets. Cover the fish with a large spoonful of the mushroom mixture (use approx. 1/6 of the mixture on each fillet). Top with a drizzle of olive oil. Fold the paper over and crimp the edges to seal tightly. Do this by folding the paper around the edges and tucking it under itself each time you fold. At this point, packets can be placed in the refrigerator for up to 6 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

Place packets on a baking pan and brush the top of each packet with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from getting too brown. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the fish goes from translucent to opaque. Serve immediately, placing the entire packet on a plate and letting each diner open it at the table.

Happy Cooking!

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