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Friday, July 19

Gapers Block

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In a few days I leave for a trip that I look forward to each year. I'll be at the big geek-fest known as SXSW Interactive. It's a lot of fun, very creatively invigorating, and equally exhausting. It's also a lot of drinking and eating. Which is great, but since I've honestly made efforts to reduce my intake of some foods, I'm trying to be very vigilant beforehand to make sure I get in foods that I do feel healthier about eating.

And one of the things that I like eating — and feel good about eating — is fish. But I admit that I hate making fish and then leaving the house the next day and smelling the fish in my hair, on my clothes or even my bag. It's not pleasant, and it's also the last thing I want to smell when I come home the next day. Fish leftovers in the fridge are one thing, leftover fish smells are completely different.

But I have a small secret that reduces the lingering fish smell while still providing a tasty fish-based dish. I've written about this technique before in regard to Slow-Roasted Asparagus, and I've described a similar technique for cooking veggies on the grill, but I'm surprised that I've not written about it as a great way to cook fish, and other meats as well.

Essentially, you take ingredients and put them into a pouch made from parchment that is folded and sealed. You then bake it in an oven and you end up with steamed and gently baked food that is very flavorful because the flavor doesn't get carried away on the steam.

Since the steam (aka scent) isn't slowly released into your home for the duration of the cooking time, you get one burst of fishiness and then it's mostly gone. And if you're lucky enough to have a vent that you can turn on and open the fish pouches under, you're even more likely to have a home free of lingering fish smells.

It's also great because you can use a softer piece of fish that you can't really flip while it's cooking in a skillet, which opens up your options to types of fish that you might not otherwise cook with. And as long as you make your folds tight you're spared an ugly clean-up. The parchment pouch makes a nice presentation as well. There's just something about having your guests open up their own parchment pouch that just makes dinner a little classier.

Since you're essentially steaming food in your oven, you can even add some thinly-sliced vegetables to the pouch, along with your spices and herbs, to create a great pile of food that is perfect for placing on top of a bed of rice for a full meal. And you can vary the flavorings pretty dramatically. So what follows are three different options to use with this technique. None of these should take you more than 30 minutes from prep time to plate. Which means they all qualify for quick weeknight dinners.

Since we're trying to keep the cooking time down, thinner fillets are great for this, and thinner fillets are often cheaper. (It's also easier to tell if there are bones left in a thin fillet.)

The traditional French method involves cutting the parchment paper into a heart shape, folding it in half, and then crimping the rounded edges. En papilliote comes from the French word for butterfly. It's a lot more work than necessary, and you're more likely to get leakage with this method. My method involves tearing off a piece of parchment that is square, so somewhere around 15 inches (depending on the width of your parchment roll.) Place the fish in the center of the parchment, perpendicular to you. Place your ingredients on top of the fish. Grab the side nearest you and the side farthest from you and bring them together. Fold them over by about an inch and keep folding until you've come close to meeting the fish. You want there to be some air around the fish, so don't make it too snug. Grab one of the open ends and fold it in 1" segments until it comes close to meeting the fish. If it will stay folded on its own when you let go, that's great. If you're worried about the steam causing it to unroll, make the last fold so the weight of the fish holds it closed. If you're adding liquid, carefully hold open the pouch and pour it into the remaining open end. Remember, you're steaming, not boiling, so only add a tablespoon or so per fillet. Now fold over the remaining end, making sure the liquid doesn't run out. You now have a pouch of food ready to be popped into an oven set at 400° F. It will take about 12-15 minutes for the fish to cook depending on the size of your fillet and how well done you want it. The first time, I'd suggest cooking for 12 minutes opening the pouch and seeing if the fish flakes apart easily; if it doesn't, return it to the oven for another 1-3 minutes.

Provencial Fish
1 6-ounce fillet of fish (cod, sole or orange roughy)
4 skinny asparagus stalks, cut into 2-inch segments
2 ounces of thinly sliced button mushrooms
1/2 of a chopped Roma tomato
1 teaspoon of minced onion
a small clove of minced garlic
large pinch of dried tarragon
large pinch of dried parsley
1 thin lemon slice
1/2 teaspoon of olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 400° F. Place all of the ingredients above in that order in the center of the parchment paper. Drizzle the olive oil over the fish and vegetables and squeeze a lemon wedge over everything. There shouldn't be so much liquid that you have a hard time containing the juices on the sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes in the center of the oven. The parchment should turn toasty brown and puffy. Serve with white or brown rice and a salad of fresh greens.

Greek Fish
1 6-ounce fillet of grouper, tilapia, flounder or cod
1/2 of a chopped Roma tomato
1 teaspoon of chopped red onion
5 kalamata olives with the pits removed and chopped
large pinch of dried parsley
large pinch of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of smashed capers
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of chopped red or yellow pepper
1 ounce of crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of dry white wine, or juice from 1/4 of a lemon

Preheat your oven to 400° F. Place all the ingredients in the order above in the center of the parchment paper. You may want to add the white wine from the last open end before sealing it. Bake for 12-15 minutes in the center of the oven. The parchment should turn toasty brown and crinkly. Serve with rice and some sautéed squash and mushrooms that have been sprinkled with dried oregano.

Non-blackened Cajun Catfish
1 6-ounce fillet of catfish
1 tablespoon of minced yellow onion
1 clove of minced garlic
large pinch of Hungarian paprika
small pinch of cayenne pepper
sprinkle of black pepper
large pinch of dried thyme
large pinch of dried basil
pinch of salt
2 thin slices of lemon
1/2 teaspoon of olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400° F. Stir all of the dried spices and herbs together in a small bowl. Sprinkle half of the mixture on each side of the fish and place in the center of the parchment. Lay the two lemon slices on top and drizzle with the olive oil. Seal it and bake for 12-15 minutes in the center of the oven. The parchment should turn toast brown and crinkly. Serve with a side of beans and rice and creamed spinach for an authentic meal. Or serve with sauteed peppers, mushrooms and zucchini over rice.

There are many flavoring options for how to cook fish in parchment. And since it is such a quick option it's great for weeknight dinners, especially since clean-up is so easy. It's also great if you're cooking dinner for several people because you can prepare the pouches ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator until your guests have arrived and you're ready to cook them. And this technique isn't just reserved for fish. You can also do it with chicken breast, or even just chopped vegetables. If you practice a few times now, you'll have the perfect seasonings ready for this summer when you're ready to take the parchment pouches to the grill.

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pat / March 5, 2007 4:31 PM

I'm really not adding anything here, since I don't really eat fish or anything... But I misread the headline to being :

"Fish Baked in Parliament"

... which i found wholly amusing. Then after reading about the unsavory after smells of baking fish (without the parchment) somehow seemed appropriate.

jen / March 5, 2007 4:44 PM

cinnamon - i seem to recall a previous column for making veggies on the grill but that was in foil pouches. any difference here?
seems to me foil is easier to work with/fold and is maybe cheaper?

Cinnamon / March 6, 2007 2:38 PM

Parliament, parchment, they're both stiff and crunchy.

And Jen, foil will also work. However, if you're going to use lemon juice or vinegar as a flavoring I'd highly suggest NOT using foil since the acid will react and make your fish taste like aluminum.

And I'd especially not use foil if you're cooking artichoke hearts, for the same reason.

Eileen / May 11, 2007 8:46 AM

I have used a similar recipe to this one and it works well with (pounded) chicken breasts for those who don't like fish.
I had lost the recipe and am glad to have one now for healthy eating !


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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