en papillote...

we bought a mountain of fruits and veggies this week, which means lots of colorful meals in the near future. tonight's dinner featured one of my favorite cooking methods. snapper fillets in parchment packets. or... filet de vivaneau en papillote... cause i'm fancy like that!

but let's go back to the beginning. [DISCLAIMER: this is so not a recipe, as it does not include anything remotely resembling measurements. should you foolishly attempt to reproduce this  meal, i expect that you have some basic cooking know-how... and a fire extinguisher close at hand]. 

i went through the veggie bins and grabbed a bit of anything that would go relatively well with fish...

1. savoy cabbage 
2. red bell pepper
3. white mushrooms
4. scallions
5. carrots
6. fingerling potatoes
7. sugar snap peas
8. cilantro
9. thyme
10. garlic
11. ginger
12. lemon 

preheat oven to 425°F (for reasons that make zero sense, every oven i have seen in Canada seems to speak Fahrenheit). in a frying/saute pan, heat a splash of olive oil (or whatever fat you prefer) to med-high, add ginger and garlic, saute for about a minute, then add ingredients 1-5 from the list above. the objective is to saute them briefly, just until the cabbage begins to soften, about 2 minutes. add salt and pepper to taste, and remove the pan from the heat so that the veggies cool slightly while preparing the next step.  they should look something like this...

now we can move on to the titular ingredient. i'm using snapper fillets this time around, but any type of fish works. it's also a lovely treatment for chicken breast fillets (with appropriate adjustments made to the cooking time). remove any excess moisture from the fillets, drizzle with olive oil , add salt (i used my favorite seasoned salt blend), a pinch of dried chili flakes, and a generous dash of fresh ground black pepper. 

this is the dangerous part. you may want to wear safety goggles and a hard hat.  add some of the sauteed veggies to the center of a large piece of parchment (mine were each about the size of a standard baking/cookie sheet). this is as close as i could get to an action shot of veggies falling out of the pan, but you have to trust me when i say it's some really exciting stuff. 

place a couple lemon slices on the bed of veggies, add a fish fillet, and top it off with a few sprigs of thyme and cilantro. keep the frying pan handy, as you'll need it again.  

now it's time to turn this mound into a proper packet. if this is a foreign concept, search the web for instructions on making parchment packets (or, if you want to be fancy, en papillote... which is French for in parchment), but be forewarned that you're gonna find all sorts of instructions that involve heart-shaped pieces of parchment, as the French exist for the sole purpose of making the rest of us feel inferior about how we do everything. in the interest of sanity, i prefer to keep things relatively rectangular. first i bring the two long sides together and fold them over at least three or four times until the seam is resting snugly against the contents. the aim is to lock in the steam and juices as much as is possible. 

then fold the two short ends. i pinch the end seams very tightly, but they usually unroll a bit during cooking. (if you're worried about the ends unfolding too much, you could cheat and add a staple to each end). 

because this is a dinner for two, i repeat the process. notice that i place the packets the short way across my old baking sheet, as the ridge will help to control the tendency for those ends to open up as the steam builds up in the packets.  place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven for about 20-25 minutes. 

during the summer months, one of those packets would be plenty filling as a meal, but it is the middle of winter when the body naturally craves something a bit more substantial. enter potatoes and peas. while the fish is in the oven, blanch the (whole, unpeeled) fingerling potatoes in salted water for about 4-7 minutes (depending on size). they should be firm, but easily pierced with a small knife. add the sugar snap peas during the last minute of blanching. remove the potatoes and peas from the boiling water and plunge them immediately into a bowl of ice-cold water (add some ice cubes to the water if necessary). after a minute or two, remove from the water bath and drain completely on a paper towel (or just let them sit in a colander for a few minutes). slice the potatoes into bite-size pieces. heat the frying pan to medium, add a drizzle of olive oil (coconut oil, bacon fat... use whatever makes you happy), and add the sliced potatoes and a sprig of thyme. toss every 30 seconds or so, until the potatoes develop a light-brown crust. this should take about 3 minutes. add salt and pepper, then toss in the sugar snap peas and continue to heat, tossing frequently, until the peas are warmed through. 

i usually know the packets are done by the delicious smell of the fish mingled with the herbs and veggies, but that is pro-level cooking skills. when in doubt, err on the side of slightly over-cooking the fish, as opposed to under-cooking the fish... and spending the night in the hospital. the parchment tends to turn slightly brown and feels somewhat dry and brittle after the cooking process. if you want a really dramatic presentation, switch on the broiler for 30 seconds to a minute, just until the top of the packets looks like they're about to go up in flames. [DISCLAIMER: if your dinner (or home) is burnt as the result of following my foolish suggestion, you have only yourself to blame]. 

finally, it's time to eat. place a packet on each plate and add a helping of potatoes and peas. 

garnish with a wedge or two of fresh lemon and you're ready to go. 

the verdict? empty packets and happiness. enjoy!

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