Salmon's firm flesh, richness and mild but assertive flavor make it one of the most versatile types of seafood. Many cooks take advantage of its robust nature to broil or grill their salmon steaks or fillets to both add a savory note to the fish and cook the meal in a gratifyingly quick fashion. For a more delicate result, the fillets can be wrapped in foil pouches and baked in a hot oven. It's still a very quick preparation method, taking just a few minutes, but yields salmon with a more delicate flavor and texture.
Cooking en Papillote
Food cooked in a pouch is usually referred to by the French term "en papillote." In fine restaurants, that pouch is made from parchment paper, and it's traditionally sliced open table-side with great fanfare amid a billowing cloud of aromatic steam. Foil pouches aren't as pretty or as dramatic, but they're a pragmatic option for the home cook. They work the same way and protect the salmon if you opt to prepare your portions ahead of time and freeze them for later use.
Preparing Your Salmon
The great virtue of cooking salmon this way is that it essentially steams in its own juices. You might opt to spray the foil with pan spray, if you're using a sweet glaze on the salmon, but otherwise it adds no fat at all. Place your salmon portion in the middle of a square of foil, with the shiny side facing inward. Rest it on a bed of herbs or aromatic vegetables if you wish, for added flavors, or pour in a splash of your favorite wine or mild vinegar. Season the salmon, or brush it with a glaze or sauce. Roll and crimp the edges of the foil to make an airtight package, and transfer all the packages to a baking sheet.
Pouch-Cooking the Salmon
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, and slide the sheet pan onto a rack in the top third of your oven. The salmon will bake in 10 to 12 minutes, depending on its thickness. As a rule, allow 10 minutes per inch. At the end of that time, remove the sheet pan from your oven and open one pouch. In the thickest section, the fillet should just be changing from its vivid raw color to the light pink of cooked salmon. If it isn't, let the remaining portions rest unopened for another 2 to 3 minutes to finish cooking in the retained heat.
A Few Observations
Cooking salmon this way provides a degree of protection against overcooking, since it traps steam inside the pouch and helps keep the salmon moist. It also enables you to customize each portion to the individual diner's preferences, tailoring the meal to meet dietary restrictions or personal likes and dislikes. If you'd like to follow the classic procedure and wrap your salmon in parchment, follow the same basic technique. Lift the edges of the parchment from each side and align them, then roll and crease them to seal the package. Do the same at each end. If you don't have foil or parchment, you can oil a clean paper bag for each portion and bake it inside the closed bag.
- On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals; Sarah Labensky et al.
- Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home; Julia Child, Jacques Pepin
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