Tuesday, 4 May 2010


It was a long weekend in London - and due to poor weather our scheduled BBQ at a friends house had been called off at short notice. Every cloud has a silver lining so with a gaggle of hungry friends looking for a feed Bex and I decided to have an impromptu indoors dinner party. With very little time to prepare we went for fast and simple menu:
  • Entree - After consulting my bro went with a simple Puy lentil, Beetroot and goats cheese salad
  • Main - Cod en papilotte with carrots, capsicum and garlic and chilli butter
  • Dessert - Bexy whipped up some Hummingbird style Red velvet cupcakes
After agonising over the menu we went with Cod as the main as its so fast to cook and wouldnt hold up the other courses with some kind of slow roasting meat or cassoulet which we had also been considering. We dashed out during a break in the weather and grabbed the ingredients. People started trickling in early evening and we had a great time prepping and cooking the dishes all standing around in the kitchen.

Today I'll focus on the Cod as it was the more interesting dish I think. If you havent heard of it En papillote means "in parchment" in French and is a method of cooking in which the fish is put into a folded parcel of greasepoof paper and cooks in its own steam. I've cooked this a few times for Bexy and I have found it very versatile in that it can carry infinite flavour combinations. You can go more asian with sesame oil, ginger and soy, or more french with garlic butter and parsley, or classic with lemon, dill etc etc. Any crisp vegetables that can be steamed work well as an accompaniment just make sure they are not cut too thick or chunky. Batons and julienned vegetables works best partnered with lots of fresh herbs of your choosing.

Whats good about them is if you prepare the parcels ahead of time - you can relax and throw them in right before your main course is due. Most of the recipes I found online suggested cooking times somewhere between 8 - 13 minutes at 180 C depending on the size of the fish. Unfortunately I didnt have the luxury of much prepping time for this dinner so wrapped them on the fly with my guests mingling around me. I seconded the lovely Mel who cut me the seven heart shaped parcels while I wrapped them up.

This is a very easy, satisfying and healthy way to cook - and would recommend it heartily. But one note of warning - I got caught out by undercooking one or two of my fillets in the large batch of seven. I cooked them all at the longer end of the accepted cooking time (13 mins) and across two shelves in the oven. On taking them out I had opened and checked my own parcel before serving - and it was done - if not verging on overdone. But once all handed out opened and unwrapped two of my unluckier guests got a fillet on the uncomfortable side of pink (Doh!), so we had to return for a quick blast under the grill. We could only surmise that the slight variation in fillet size and the possibiltiy that my oven has uneven heat was to blame. If you've got thick fillets and alot of them I would verge towards the 15 minute mark just to be sure.

And this is where the strength and weakness of the papilotte lies. Many recipes I found celebrated the joy or serving the parcels to your guest and letting them unwrap it to reveal the steaming goodness inside. But at the same time, for that very reason I felt I should not open too many so I was unable to accurately check each fillet was cooked apart from a gentle prod through the paper to make sure it was firm. Previously when I cooked for myself I have removed them, inspected them closely  and plated the fillet with vegetables, herbs and juices in place quite easily using an egg flip / fish slice. If I had done that on this occasion I would have avoided the undercooking issue, but also increased the workload and crucial oven to table time plating up seven plates. More importantly I would have lost some of the steamy magic. Asking around the table most agreed opening the parcel was fun and should be part of it. I'm not sure - I'd probably be tempted to try plating it individually next time.

Now some recipes suggested using foil, however most of the more serious recipes from established chefs call for greaseproof paper. Something about transfer of heat altering the way it cooks, although it probably wouldn't make a huge difference. Although I often use some foil along the seam to assist it to hold together if my folds arent up to scratch. I cant really describe the folding process of the parcels too well in writing (see below) but the general aim to to create a fold at right angles to the bottom of the parcel, then progressively build folds along the edge, each one on top of the other. Good old Gordon Ramsey demonstrates the papillote folding process here very well (skip to 3:30 for the folding) Although he suggests using a parchment paper cut as a straight square folded into diamond halves where I picked up somewhere that a heart shape actually makes it easier to fold. I've tried both and prefer the heart shape.
Serves 6.

6 portions of line caught cod (skin on or off depending on your preference)
4 carrots, peeled and cut into battons / strips
3 Mixed capsicum / pepper cut into strips
3 tblsp unsalted butter
6 clove garlic crushed 
6 tsp chilli paste
1 bunch French / broad leaf parsely
Salt and pepper to taste
Roll of grease proofe paper(some foil to assist seal if you wish)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Cut parchment paper - 6 sheets of 30cm x 30cm. squares. Fold in half, then trim from bottom left corner around to top left via the edge in a semi / halved - heart shape. Unfold it and would should have a symmetrical heart shape.

Combining your garlic and butter. Smear a teaspoon of the butter onto one half of each of the heart shaped parcels.

Divide carrots and capsicums and a few sprigs of parsely evenly among the 6 parcels.

Layer the single cod fillet on top of each and smear on top with garlic butter. Put a dollop of chilli paste on the top if you fancy and another sprig of Parsely. Season well with salt and pepper.

Fold each parcel, starting in one corner, fold in small triangle all the way around the packet, leaving no opening. See Gordon fold a parcel here at 3min :30

Place packets on baking tray, bake for 8 - 15 minutes (8-12 for thinner fillets. 12-15 minutes for thicker ones).

P.S The best bit about cooking this dinner was there was some nice opportunities for creative leftovers. Busted out a beer batered Cod and chips with the left over (uncooked) cod and made a Borsch beetroot soup with the left over beetroots for lunch on sunday. Lush!


B said...

Could I be so bold as to say the 'left overs' were better than the dinner?

Janice said...

Love the heart shaped papiotte!

B said...

ok ok, that wasn't fair.. dinner was amazing, left overs also good but I was feeling a wee bit hung over and the fishs and chips sorted me right out!

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