Fish in parchment paper -- or en papillotte -- is flavorful, healthy and effortless to prepare. The elegant dish is equally suited for a busy weeknight dinner or a festive dinner party. The sealed parchment packet acts as an individual steamer, keeping the fish moist and tender. Assemble the packets right before baking or create the packets ahead of time and keep them refrigerated until you're ready to bake them.
The only essential equipment you need to make fish en papillote is a baking sheet and a roll of parchment paper. In a pinch, use foil to replace the parchment paper, as long as you're not using any acids in the sauce. Gather the roll of parchment paper, scissors for cutting it and a baking sheet. If you’re planning to add fresh herbs or vegetables to the packet, you may need a cutting board and a sharp knife.
Choosing the Fish
Although you can bake a whole fish or meaty fish steaks in parchment paper, the method is particularly well-suited to fillets of delicate or medium-firm fillets. Choose a flaky fish, such as salmon, haddock, halibut, snapper or sea bass, cod or shrimp. Because the fish is the star of the dish, use the best quality available. Choose fresh fillets with firm, shiny flesh and no discoloration around the edges. Frozen fish shouldn't have any ice crystals in the package or discoloration.
The additional ingredients you add to the parchment packets should cook approximately as quickly as the fish. Choose vegetables that cook relatively quickly, such as zucchini, spinach, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes or asparagus tips. If you want to add longer-cooking vegetables, such as parsnips or potatoes, slice them very thinly or precook them. Other optional ingredients include citrus fruits, herbs and spices. Add liquids, such as broth, citrus juice or wine, or a small amount of fat, such as cream, butter or coconut milk.
Assembling the Packets
Cut a piece of parchment paper that's at least 14 inches by 12 inches for each fish fillet. Fold each piece in half and trim the parchment paper into the shape of a half heart, so that when it's unfolded, the sheet is heart-shaped. On one side, lay vegetables and herbs. Top it with the fish and a drizzle of liquid or olive oil. Fold the parchment in half and begin creating tight folds along the edge to seal the parchment before transferring it to a baking sheet.
Bake the parchment packets for about 10 minutes in an oven that's been preheated to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The edges of the paper should begin to change color. Cooking times may vary depending on the thickness of the fish. For example, a 1/2- inch thick fillet takes four to six minutes to cook, while a 1-inch thick fillet needs nine to 11 minutes. If you're cooking a whole fish, plan for nine to 11 minutes per inch of thickness.