Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Flounder en Papillote with Fennel, Olives, & Lemon
Cooking en papillote is way simpler and less precious than it sounds, and it’s one of the best ways I know to enhance the flavor of fresh fish. Steamed in parchment, all the juices and flavors permeate the fish, leaving it beautifully moist and melding into a light, delicate sauce. I’ve never known a dinner guest who didn’t enjoy the flourish of opening their own parchment bag. And of course the possibilities for flavor variations are endless.
Here I’ve followed a simple Mediterranean theme – the combination of fennel, olives, lemon, oregano, and tomato is one you’ll find all over Greece, and it goes beautifully with the sweet, clean flavor of white, flaky fish. But feel free to vary the herbs as much as your imagination and the season will allow. Try some capers. Try some butter. For a slightly meatier fish, something a little more intense like orange zest, fennel seed, black olive, and red chile is delicious too. Or go a completely different route and try some sea bass with a Southeast Asian bent - maybe some lemongrass, fresh ginger, chile, and lime.
If you’re out of baking parchment, aluminum foil will do in a pinch, but then be sure to omit any acidic ingredients like the lemon and tomatoes, or you’ll end up with a metallic flavor. If you’re in need of extra fortification, rice or new potatoes are a nice way to round out the meal, as are those French, dark green Puy lentils. You can boil them with some bay leaf and dress them with good olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.
2 large flounder fillets or other flat, white, flaky fish fillets (about ¾ lb each)
1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly, fronds reserved
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
leaves from 1 or 2 stems of fresh oregano
2 lemons, sliced thinly across into circles
1 pint cherry tomatoes
big handful good olives
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Cut 4 lengths of baking parchment, each about 18 inches in length (there’s no need to measure – just be sure you have enough room for the fish and vegetables, plus extra for folding. Fold each length in half with a sharp crease. Arrange on two baking sheets.
Rinse the flounder and pat dry. Using a sharp knife, divide each fillet into two portions lengthwise down the natural seam in the center.
Open each piece of parchment as you would a book. Divide the fennel between the four pieces, placing it on the right hand side of the parchment. Season generously with olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Arrange a flounder fillet on top of each pile of fennel, tucking under the thinner end of the fillet to create a more uniform thickness – this way the fish will cook evenly. Drizzle the fish with a little more olive oil and season again with salt and pepper. Tear over some fennel fronds and oregano leaves. Next arrange three lemon slices on each fillet. Finally add the tomatoes and olives.
To seal the parchment packets, make one fold on the diagonal at the bottom left hand corner, creasing it sharply by pressing with your finger, as you would when you fold paper (see photo below).
Add a second fold following a curve so that your packet will eventually form a half moon (see photo below).
Continue adding sharply creased folds, following a curve up and around the ingredients. When you reach the top, twist the remaining paper to seal, (see the completed packet in the close up below).
Repeat the process with the other 3 packets. Place both baking sheets in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, trading the sheets top to bottom after the first 10 minutes so that they cook evenly.
When they’re finished the fish will just be flaky. Gently slide each packet onto a plate and serve immediately, allowing each diner to open his or her own packet.