Ever since people discovered fire and started cooking, foods that weren’t great candidates for roasting over an open flame – like sides of meat- were probably protected by some kind of wrapper: banana leaves, plant husks, pieces of animal fat or whatever happened to be handy and available.
The method of enclosing food in a parchment paper package, en papillote, is ingenious when you think about it. Every ingredient in the package steams and bastes in its own juices, enhancing taste and preserving nutrients. It’s pure, simple and maybe best of all there’s no pan to clean! Well, not counting the baking sheet…
This recipe layers essential Provençal flavors of tomatoes, fennel and garlic. I like to use delicate, quicker-cooking fish like sole, snapper or sea bass. Combined with vegetables the whole package cook in just 10 minutes, and the resulting light, buttery sauce is deliciously like bouillabaisse. Serve the fish packages with some crusty bread alongside to enjoy every drop of the sauce.
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 fresh fennel bulb, stems trimmed and fronds reserved
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 small white onion, very thinly sliced
1 pound sole fillets
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
4 tablespoons butter
4 teaspoons anise-flavored liqueur such as Pernod or Ricard
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Toss the tomatoes with the garlic, fennel seed, 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt in a bowl.
- Remove the tough outer layer from the fennel bulb. Thinly shave the fennel with a mandoline or a sharp knife and combine in another bowl with the remaining teaspoon oil, pinch of salt, lemon juice and the onion.
- Fold 4 pieces of parchment paper (12 x 17 inches) in half, then open them flat on a work surface. Place some of the tomatoes (about ¼ cup) on the sheet to one side of the fold. Place a portion of sole over the tomatoes; season the sole with salt and top with the fennel mixture, some tarragon, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon of the Pernod if using.
- Fold the parchment to close. Starting at a corner, make overlapping pleated folds all around to form a half-moon shaped package.
- Repeat the process with the remaining sheets of parchment, tomatoes, sole, fennel, tarragon, butter and Pernod. (The packages can be prepared ahead and refrigerated up to 4 hours in advance of baking).
- Place the packages on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Transfer the packages to serving plates and cut open with scissors – sprinkle the fish with reserved fennel fronds and serve immediately.