Brown Baggin’ it…

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Recently, I was cleaning out my office and came across an album of articles I once wrote for a small syndication of newspapers WAY back in the day….SO way back that many of the articles  were Canary  yellow and when I looked at my column’s by-line  picture I actually had hair on my head!

And that’s the way it was, Thursday, October 27th, 1983 as Walter Cronkite might have said.

Back then, I was teaching Culinary Arts at Monroe Community College, 3 years before Opus One opened and more than a decade before my work at Epoch Restaurant Group.

Restaurants…phew!…now there’s a way to lose some hair.

The article was about En Papillote…(cooking “in Paper” pronounced N- poppy-yote,) which is an old cooking method very well suited to cooking fish, which with Lent fast approaching was I thought quite ironic.

So, I took the article out of its protective sleeve, read it and thought I’d share with you some of the high-lights…And forgive me if I plagiarize some of my own work here…I’m allowed.

Bottom line is, that we’ve all been so accustomed to cooking in fry pans, casserole dishes or earthenware pots, that cooking something in paper seems completely foreign….(and of course, you’d be right since it is really a French creation…)

But cooking in paper can be a very delicious and nutritious way to prepare and enjoy fish since the flavor, juices and nutrients are locked in the paper pouch.

What you’re really doing is kind of “steam baking” in an enclosed container.

It’s also a pretty impressive presentation if you do it right because the steam created by the moisture and or vegetables in the paper pouch inflate the paper and create sort of a “Jiffy Pop’® like dome. You then present the pouch, on a serving plate, with the fish still inside. When the diner opens the package, the steam, aromas and the melded flavors are remarkable.

So, how do you pull off this “fish magic”?

Actually, it’s pretty easy, and kind of fun.

Follow me.

  1. We’ll use salmon. It doesn’t matter whether it’s skin on or off, your choice, but select a boneless fillet of about 6 to 8 ounces (a panel that will be about 3” x 4” and an inch thick)
  2. Next, choose some vegetables you like, cut them julienne and for every piece of salmon, you’ll need about a half cup.
  3. Let’s also add a pat of butter and a small splash of white wine of lemon juice to each portion.
  4. And of course salt and pepper. Any other seasonings, dill, garlic, etc. are up to you.
  5. For the paper, you’ve got some choices. You can actually use an un-printed brown paper bag but I wouldn’t recommend it. When someone mentions that they Brown Bagged it, this isn’t what they meant. Instead, purchased some large sheets of Parchment Paper, the kind used for baking, alternatively, just so’sya know,  this recipe can be very successfully prepared using aluminum foil but I personally think the results look like cross between Jiffy Pop® and a TV dinner.
  6. Ok, we’re ready to begin. Pre-heat your oven to 425 F and have a cookie sheet available to place your pouches on,
  7. Here’s the easiest part to do but the hardest one to describe. In the end, you’ll want a LARGE, wide heart shape. The easiest way to do that is to take the fully opened parchment paper and fold it in half (like a newspaper) then cut a large semi-circle shape looking like half a heart. Open the paper up once again to reveal your heart shape.
  8. Place the opened up heart on a flat surface and spray the entire surface with vegetable cooking spray.
  9. For explanation purposes, orient the paper so that the point of the heart is facing toward you, Place a bed of the vegetables in the middle of right hand side “lobe” of the heart, then place the fish fillet, the pat of butter and any seasoning on top of that.
  10. Finally, add a TBSP of wine or lemon juice.
  11. Fold the left hand lobe of the paper over to the right hand side and as much as possible have the two lobes match up.
  12. Starting at the top of the lobe, and working down toward the tip, pinch together both pieces of paper at the edge and fold them over (together) in a one inch flap facing upward (not under).
  13. Holding that sealed flap in place, continue creating 1 inch flaps, one overlapping the other, to create a sealed edge. When you reach the bottom, tuck the last flap under. (You can even staple it if you want but keep track of that staple!
  14. Prepare each portion the same way, placing each one on the cookie sheet.
  15. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until the pouches have popped (which indicates the steam has done its thing.
  16. When you remove the pouches from the oven, plate each on its own service plate and be prepared to eat immediately!
  17. When you open the pouch you’ll find that the juices from the fish combined with the vegetables, butter and wine or lemon juice as created a wonderful sauce!

There you have it!  It’s a classic, it’s fun and it’s delicious.  You can even use this same method for shellfish (Shrimp,  Scallops& Lobster).

And you can now “cook your way out of a paper bag”…