Fish en papillote (“in parchment”) is a traditional French method of cooking fish. Other cultures use it too; for Italians, it’s “al cartoccio,” Southeast Asian cuisines use banana leaves, and Latin Americans use cornhusks. The food – in this course, fish – is wrapped with herbs, spices, and vegetables in parchment paper (or foil or leaves) and then baked or roasted. Because the steam swirls around inside the packet, the food stays moist and flavorful. This meal is extremely healthy and nutritious: it requires very little (if any) fat for flavor, and the nutrients in vegetables remain intact, as they’re not leached out in water.
Halibut, cod, or other white fish
Cherry tomatoes, split in half (1/2 – 1 carton)
Fennel bulb, sliced
¼ – ½ cup kalamata olives, sliced
Herbs: thyme, oregano, basil
Splash of white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
Set oven to 350°.
Saute onion and fennel in a small amount of olive oil until onion is soft, about 5 minutes.
Spread out two heart-shaped pieces of parchment paper, about 12 inches across. Lay fish to one side of the paper; top with cherry tomatoes, onion, fennel, and olives. Sprinkle with herbs, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of white wine. Fold over one side of the parchment paper to make a half-heart, and fold sharp creases around the fish until packet is sealed (if you need reinforcements to seal the packet, fold strips of aluminum foil over the two ends).
Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven; cut vertically into the parchment and carefully (hot steam will escape) pull apart the two sides. Sprinkle with capers and salt and pepper.
Why Should You Eat This?
Remember my article on clean eating? This recipe follows those tenets: it uses only real, whole foods (no processed ones), there are plenty of fresh vegetables, and the fish is a great source of lean protein and healthy fats. It’s also an incredibly versatile recipe: you can sub in most forms of protein (chicken, shrimp, even tofu) and match vegetables, spices, and herbs to construct any type of flavor or cuisine. This recipe is Mediterranean-inspired, but you could go Asian with ginger, fish sauce, and cilantro, or French with zucchini, asparagus, and parsley.
If you generally stick to chicken and red meat, this recipe is a great way to introduce fish into your diet. The benefits of eating omega-3-rich fish are numerous: research shows that eating just two servings a week can reduce the level of blood triglycerides and improve cardiovascular health dramatically. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to protect against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and reduce depression (it’s no coincidence that Iceland, a country whose yearly fish consumption is 225 pounds per person, has one of the lowest rates of depression in the world). This recipe is simple: it takes only about 20 minutes to prepare (15 of which are spent baking) and is difficult to mess up: almost any combination of herbs and vegetables will work.