Light, fresh, and easy, you will absolutely love this elegant yet simple Fish en Papillote dish. Serve these charming fish parcels at the table so the steam and aroma billows out when opened – so much fun and irresistibly good!
Never mind that Fall is chomping at our heels, all I am still craving is fresh and light meals. Easy ones too, so I can chill in the backyard enjoying the last few weeks of summer. This fish en papillote—poached in a distinctive lemony-wine broth, flavoured with pungent red onions, juicy sun-kissed cherry tomatoes, and the briniest caper berries—offers exactly that.
If you’ve never cooked fish en papillote before, it’s incredibly fun and easy. The retro-classic method for steaming fish inside little sealed packets ensures that your fish turns out moist and tender every time. This technique for cooking fish makes it a cinch to pull a weeknight meal together, presents beautifully for a dinner party, and is pretty much foolproof.
A very versatile dish, you could really use any flavours and ingredients you fancy. The recipe is written for four but easily multiplies to feed more. Or make it for two for the perfect mid-week dinner to share a deux.
What is fish en papillote
In French, en papillote translates to “in paper” or “in Parchment”. At its simplest, the term refers to a cooking method where food is enclosed in a paper, foil, or parchment packet and then baked in the oven. By cooking fish inside a parcel, all the flavours and juices stay trapped inside, creating the perfect environment for moist, flaky fish.
If entertaining, I like to serve the parcels at the table straight from the oven so that dinner guests can open up their packets individually. Everyone is instantly impressed when they breathe in the punch of steamy aroma.
Ingredients for fish en papillote
Fell free to use this recipe as your base then riff off from here to use ingredients you have on hand, or other combinations you may prefer.
- Fish: Any meaty, firm-bodied fish will work perfectly for this method. Needless to say, finding the freshest fish will make the biggest difference. I like to use halibut, cod, or delicately flavoured sole. Salmon and trout would also be fantastic.
- Lemon: The best ingredient to provide a bright, sour counterpoint to all things seafood. Also fantastic for deodorizing any stronger fish flavours.
- White wine: Not essential but a few splashes helps create a super tasty broth for the fish. Omit if you wish, adding a little more lemon juice instead.
- Fresh baby Spinach: The greens make a great bed for the fish and of course makes these little pouches even more nutritious. Use swiss chard or other hearty green, if you prefer.
- Red onions: White fish can be a little bland. Steamed fish, as opposed to pan fried, grilled, or roasted, needs a little help to be more flavourful. I like a lot of pungent red onions which add a ton of flavour to the fish and soften delightfully in the steamed juices.
- Cherry tomatoes: I simply love how they burst inside the packets and help add some sweetness to the juices. You can also use thick slices of ripe tomatoes.
- Caper berries: The caper bud and its briny liquid adds a very pleasing fresh nip and flavour to the fish. Here I went with caper berries. Have you tried them? Brined caper berries have a pickle-like sour flavour. Larger than the more common tiny caper buds, they are picked and packed with their stems intact. Quite tender to bite like an olive, they contain tiny seeds that give a very subtle crunch. I simply love them but if you don’t like the crunchy seeds, or if you can’t find them, go with the tiny capers instead.
- Extra-virgin olive oil: For flavour and to keep the fish really moist and juicy.
- Crushed peppercorns: Purely optional but add fantastic colour and a subtle kick. Regular pepper will be just as tasty.
Other optional ingredients to add
- Green or black olives
- Sweet bell peppers
- Herbs – thyme, parsley, mint
- Veggies – very thinly sliced zucchini, potatoes, yellow squash, green or yellow beans
- Use shallots instead of red onions
- Sherry or Vermouth would work in place of white wine
- Make the pouches with Thai flavours using garlic, ginger, lime juice and bok choy
How to cook fish en papillote
Fish en papillote may sound fancy, but it is actually a really effortless way to cook fish, and super customizable to your taste or to the season. Bonus that clean-up is a snap.
Here is the step-by-step:
Prepare the fish. Place fish on a platter and pat dry. Drizzle the with a little extra-virgin olive oil then season with kosher salt on both sides and crushed peppercorns (or black pepper).
Prepare parchment sheets. You will need 1 sheet per fish. The sheet should be at least 16-inches in length and 12-13-inches wide. If you are loading your packet with a lot of veggies, use a slightly larger sheet.
Assemble the packets. Place the spinach leaves on the lower end of the long side of parchment paper. Top with 3 slices of lemon and place the fish on top. Sprinkle with peppercorns if using, or with a few cracks of pepper. Add a few more slices of lemon, then top with the sliced red onions, and the caper berries. Place the cherry tomatoes around the fish and drizzle everything with a little more olive oil and 1 tablespoon wine.
Fold and seal the parchment pouches. Fold top half of paper over bottom half, making sure the two ends of paper meet. Then begin folding tightly from the centre to one of the sides, as shown in the picture below. Go back to the center and fold tightly in the opposite direction making sure you pinch both ends tightly. Repeat with all the fish pieces and place the pouches on a baking sheet.
Cook. Bake in a preheated 450 degrees F oven for 10 minutes. If the fish is very thick, cook for 1 or 2 minutes longer. Perfectly juicy, tender fish every time.
To make ahead and serve
You can assemble and seal the pouches up to 2 hours ahead and place in the fridge until ready to bake. But note that due to the lemon and wine in this recipe, the texture of the fish could be damaged if made ahead much longer than that.
To accompany the fish, I like to scoop white rice, quinoa, or couscous right into the pouch to help soak up all the delicious juices. Or, serve with a hearty salad, or any veggies you might like to cook up separately. And because it is still summer, a glass of rosé would be simply lovely.
A few tips
- Don’t add too much liquid. Don’t be tempted to add too much liquid to the pouch or it could end up boiling your fish instead of steaming. In addition, the pouch may not be able to contain too much liquid.
- Thinly slice heartier veggies. The fish does not bake for very long so if using larger, heartier vegetables such as potatoes, zucchini, carrots, peppers, etc, they must be sliced/cut paper thin or they will be undercooked.
- Don’t unseal the pouch. Once baked, don’t unseal the pouch or you will lose all the juices. Instead, cut the top open with a sharp knife and fold back the paper.
If you enjoy fish, you may also like:
- Blackened Fish with Mango and Avocado Salsa
- A Very Good Salmon and Rice Bowl
- Baked Salmon with Red Chimichurri Sauce
Fish en Papillote
- 4 16×13-inch (approximately) pieces of parchment paper
- 4 6-oz white fish fillets such as Cod, Halibut, or Sole
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons crushed mixed peppercorns, or fresh black pepper to taste
- 3-4 cups fresh baby Spinach washed and dried
- 20 very thin lemon slices, from about 2-3 large lemons (use less if necessary)
- 1 large red onion, very thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup caper berries (or 3 tablespoons regular capers)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons white wine optional, but delicious
- 1/2 cup chopped herbs, such as basil, thyme, parsley optional
- Preheat the oven to 450ºF.
- Place fish on a platter and pat dry. Drizzle the fish fillets with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil then season with kosher salt on both sides.
- Lay one sheet of parchment flat on a work surface. Place the spinach leaves in the bottom centre of the parchment paper, leaving room at the bottom. See photos in post for guidance. Top the greens with 3 slices of lemon and place the fish on top. Sprinkle with peppercorns if using, or with a few cracks of pepper to taste. Top with 2 more slices of lemon, the sliced red onions, and the caper berries. Place the cherry tomatoes around the fish and sprinkle with another pinch of kosher salt. Drizzle everything with a little more olive oil and 1 tablespoon wine.
- Fold top half of paper over bottom half, making sure the two ends of paper meet. Fold the parchment paper around the edges tightly in 1/4-inch folds to create a half moon shape. Make sure you press as you crimp and fold to seal the packets well, otherwise the steam will escape (see photos in post for guidance). Repeat with all the fish fillets and place the pouches on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 10 minutes. If the fish fillet is thicker than 1-inch, cook for 2 minutes longer.
- Serve straight from the oven on individual plates so everyone can open their own packets.