Sunday, February 19, 2012

salmon en papillote

In an attempt to be more healthy last weekend, I decided we need to eat more fish. I bought a bag of frozen wild-caught salmon fillets at the grocery store and chucked them in the freezer. Yesterday afternoon, whilst peering into the depths of the freezer and thinking about what to make for dinner, the bag of salmon caught my eye. It was honestly less of a burning desire to eat the fish and more of a guilt thing over having spent money on it but not used it that made me pull two fillets out of it...but the point is that I DID pull two fillets out, defrosted them, and cooked them for dinner.

I wanted to jazz the salmon up a little, since frankly neither my husband nor I tend to get too excited about fish unless it's beer-battered and served with a heap of fries and malt vinegar. Flipping through several cookbooks yielded little inspiration - everything seemed to be calling for sugary glazes to coat the salmon with, and we're doing our best to cut sugar out of our diets. I remembered an episode of Good Eats I saw years ago, where Alton Brown cooked salmon in these nifty parchment pocket things - you pack the fish and whatever else you want to go with it into a parchment pocket, seal it up, cook it, and everything lightly cooks itself in the trapped steam. It sounded like the beginnings of a good idea, so I turned to trusty Google and found an old Julia Child recipe for Salmon en Papillote with Tomatoes and Shallots. Winner, winner, fish for dinner!

The recipe, found below, is super simple as long as you can get your hands on some parchment paper. All you really need to do is season the fillets and then place them on the parchment with your chosen vegetable accoutrements, like so:

Then, you do a little origami practice to seal the packets up, like so:

 NOTE: Gods, how I tried to do these packets into nice neat rectangles by folding the ends of the parchment over in the middle and then creasing the ends closed, but they WOULD NOT stay closed no matter what I did, so I regrouped and did it Alton Brown's way. Worked so much easier. I wish I'd have just done it that way to begin with, as it would have saved me a good 20 minutes of paper-crackling and swearing and muttering about having quit drinking too soon.

These packets then go into a 425 degree oven for about 8 minutes or so. The only thing I found frustrating about this cooking method (other than the above-mentioned packet-making debacle), was that when it came time to check the fish to see if it was done...I couldn't, at least not without ripping open one of my carefully constructed packets. That was mildly annoying. I cracked one open and deemed it done, but if it hadn't been, I suppose I'd have had to just stick them back in the open ripped open and hope for the best.

Anyway, this was the end result:

It was pretty tasty, though I'd like to try the same recipe again with fresh fillets rather than previously-frozen ones. I think, with salmon at least, freezing just does something unfixable to the texture of the fish. I enjoy fresh a whole lot more than frozen, but this was still certainly decent. As you can see, I added some asparagus and a side-salad with a nice bright lemon-garlic dressing.

Salmon En Papillote with Tomatoes, Shallots and Asparagus
Serves two

1 medium bunch of asparagus (or about 6-8 spears per person, depending on how much you like asparagus), woody ends broken off
2 Roma tomatoes, washed and chopped
1 large or 2 small shallots, chopped fine
2 4oz salmon fillets, fresh or defrosted
salt and pepper
small amount of butter for applying to parchment and topping vegetables
parchment paper

1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Rip off a piece of parchment about 16" long. Lightly rub center of parchment with a bit of butter. Arrange half of asparagus on parchment. Place one salmon fillet atop asparagus. Add half of chopped tomatoes and half of chopped shallots atop salmon fillet. Top with a dab of butter.

2. Carefully fold parchment over fish and vegetables and work your way around the edge, folding paper over and crimping as you go.When you get to the other corner of the packet, crease the paper and fold the remainder UNDER the packet. This will keep it closed and keep the packet air-tight.

3. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

4. Place packets on a cookie sheet and place in 425 degree oven for about 8 minutes (my fillets were about 3/4 inch thick. If you have thicker ones, you'll need to adjust your cook time up by a couple minutes).

5. Remove packets from oven, open carefully, and serve.

Note: If you're interested, the dressing on my salad was a vinaigrette made with the juice and zest of one Meyer lemon, some extra virgin olive oil, a small dash of white wine vinegar, a little salt, and one clove of garlic, minced.