Friday, January 27, 2012

Cod en Papillote

A few days ago a good friend mentioned her uncertainty about cooking seafood. She was fine with meat and poultry, but fish lurked in culinary darkness. We all have those things we're afraid to cook. When I married my vegetarian husband, I was grateful I could avoid cooking meat altogether. I fretted about it being underdone and delivering a side of salmonella or e-coli with dinner. (Ask my friends who taught me how to can preserves and they'll tell you that fear of food borne illness is a theme for me.)  

Back to seafood, my friend said she had heard you can cook salmon in the dishwasher. A dozen overcooked salmon experiences almost tempt me to try it. But 1) I do not have a dishwasher and 2) I find the settings on my oven far easier to control: "bake" and "broil" versus "pots and pans" or "light rinse."

Moreover, I have recently found that cooking fish en papillote yields consistent and delicious results every time. En papillote is a French technique in which you wrap the food in parchment paper along with seasonings and then bake. The parchment helps retain moisture and infuse the food with flavor. 

My current favorite fish en papillote recipe is adapted from The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook. It is perfect for entertaining--which I do often these days--because the fish and vegetables cook together. Moreover, it looks pretty and yields fewer dishes. Win.  

Cod en Papillote with Sauteed Vegetables and Sweet Spices
serves 4

olive oil
2 yellow peppers, sliced lengthwise 
2 small zucchini, julienned 
1 teaspoon fennel seed, lightly ground
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cod fillets
1 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit Cut four squares of parchment paper and brush each with olive oil. 

Toss the vegetables in the spices and saute over medium-high heat for about three minutes. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Divide the vegetables evenly among the parchment squares, then top each with a fillet of cod. 

Deglaze the vegetable pan with balsamic vinegar, and allow it to reduce slightly. Pour over each portion of fish then top with cilantro.  

To seal the packages, bring two parallel edges of the paper together and fold repeatedly until it touches the fish. Think of the way you would fold a brown paper lunch bag. Then fold each end underneath to seal the package. 

Place each packet on a baking sheet and bake for about 18 minutes. Allow each diner to open his or her own package.  

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