The first time I cooked en papillote, the fancy-sounding French technique of baking with parchment-paper packets, I was desperately trying to impress a guy I was crazy about. I had this idea that if I could make a dinner that would make him swoon, then perhaps he would love me, too.
I had no recipe. Just this notion. I’d seen fish served this way in magazines but had never experienced it. Some people might’ve tried something simpler, something they already knew how to do. But I’d not managed to woo him with bread pudding with whiskey sauce or homemade ravioli with browned butter, and I needed to step up my game.
So I called a well-known Dallas restaurant and asked to speak to the chef. I didn’t know him and had never been to the restaurant — it was far too expensive for my meager budget. But he got on the phone right away and told me exactly what to do: First, pour some white wine and water in a saucepan with fresh herbs and let it reduce by half. Then pour this small bit of liquid over my fish on the parchment, roll it up tightly and let it cook until the paper browns. So I did this. It took less than 15 minutes to prepare.
The fish was perfect.
The date was not.
He and I didn’t last much longer, but I learned a good lesson. I now knew how to make fish en papillote, which, unlike so many romances, is truly a forever kind of thing, and something that works for one as well as two — or more.
Fish is one of easiest dishes to prepare this way. It works as easily with a larger portion served family-style as it does with individual ones. I’ve done it both ways.
What’s great about this technique, besides its wow-factor presentation, is that it uses no oil — the fish, chicken, shrimp or whatever you’re making cooks by steaming. Plus, there’s almost no mess to clean up, which is always a good thing.