What is it about cooking en papillote (in a paper bag) that seems so civilized and celebratory? Cooking food in parchment paper wrapped tightly to hold in the steam and juices is a mainstream technique that is embraced by many culinary cultures. The Italians have their al cartoccio, but the French seem to seal the deal when it comes to pomp and pageantry.
This is a familiar dish in the ritzy French cafes of classic New Orleans dining, and my first experience with en papillote cooking was with a perfectly constructed pompano en papillote–a signature dish at Antoine’s in the French Quarter. Not only was the fish delicious, but it was the exquisite and ceremonious presentation that built a lifelong food memory for me. Without the en papillote preparation, the occasion would have been long forgotten by now.
I presume there is an innate joy that we all have for opening a present and revealing what’s inside. Everyone loves a surprise. So, why don’t we all adopt this simple trick into our kitchen repertoire? I mean c’mon, how much does a roll of parchment paper cost? Plus, the added benefit is that there is one less cooking vessel to wash.
Folding the parchment is dead simple, and if needed, there are a bevy of online video tutorials to help you. Simply, take a placemat-size sheet of parchment, place the ingredients on one side, fold over the other side, and seal the edge tightly. That’s it. But, if you don’t happen to be a wrap star, I’ve found the easy way to cook en papillote with these convenient parchment cooking bags.
For my Snapper En Papillote recipe, fresh Gulf fish from Louisiana waters is always my first choice. Red snapper is my favorite for taste and texture that holds up well to bold spice and herbs. I am blessed to have access to the freshest seafood available at both my local markets and from good friends who fish the waters.
The keys to cooking my Snapper En Papillote – and there are three of them – are where the margin of difficulty comes in, but trust me, the difficulty is at a bare bones minimum. First, a benefit of cooking in a sealed paper bag is that it steams in its own juices. The ingredients need to cook simultaneously and, in the case of fish, quickly, so all of the contents need to be conducive to steam cooking. If not, they may take some partial cooking or a quick zap in the microwave.
Next, is the flavor factor. Steamed foods can sometimes be bland, so the addition of herbs, spices, and other flavor enhancers become more relevant to this style of cooking. A tasty, local ingredient in my Cajun recipe is fragrant Louisiana jasmine rice from Supreme Rice based in Acadia Parish, and I’m adding Louisiana satsuma-flavored rum from my friends at Bayou Rum in Lacassine, Louisiana. But get creative with this Snapper En Papillote; white wine, vermouth, pesto, soy sauce, and compound butter are all tricks of building flavor within the packet. Citrus is another key to my Cajun recipe for Snapper En Papillote and features sliced blood oranges, one of my favorite ingredients. I like to work vertically within the confines of the packet with ingredients that add layers of flavor that trickle down into the overall dish.
Finally, color will add complexity to my Snapper En Papillote presentation and contrast the off-white envelope with a burst of colorful ingredients hiding inside. Try not to have all one color; in my Cajun recipe, I add julienned red peppers alongside green poblano strips and yellow starburst cherry tomatoes with a scattering of black beans and cilantro.
- 4 (5-ounce) red snapper fillets
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 cups cooked white jasmine rice, rinsed of excess starch
- 1 cup canned black beans
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1 cup julienned red bell pepper
- 1 cup julienned green poblano pepper
- ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
- 1 cup halved yellow cherry tomatoes
- 4 teaspoons rum or white wine, (optional)
- 8 tablespoons coconut milk
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 blood orange or any citrus fruit, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
- 4 wedges fresh lime
- Remove the fish from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking and bring to room temperature. Inspect the fillets for any bones and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- In a mixing bowl, add the cooked rice along with the black beans and cilantro leaves. Stir to combine.
- In a non-metal mixing bowl with cover, add the peppers and onions along with a small amount of water. Cover, place in the microwave, and cook on high for 3 minutes until steamed and par-cooked. Remove, uncover, and drain off the water.
- Spread out the parchment paper packets and scoop a portion of the rice mixture on the bottom of the parchment paper. Add a few strips of thinly cut red bell pepper, poblano peppers, and sliced onion to each packet. Spread a few yellow tomato halves around. Place the snapper fillet over the vegetables and rice. Drizzle over the coconut milk, rum, if using, and olive oil. Add the orange slices to each along with a sprig of fresh thyme. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and a quick grind of black pepper to taste. Close the packet and seal.
- Place the packets on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
- For serving, add one packet to the center of each serving plate and slice open with a sharp knife or scissors in front of each guest at the table. Garnish with fresh thyme and cilantro leaves along with a wedge of fresh lime.
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