On our last day of culinary school, we picked numbers out of a bowl. The numbers would determine the menu we would be making for our final that day, and the time at which we would present. I unfolded my little white slip to reveal a “B2”, written boldly in thick black ink. I would be making striped bass en papillote and pate a choux. I would be presenting first. Time starts now.
As luck would have it, I chose the better of the two menus. The alternative, a consommé and poulet grand-mere, consisted of seemingly endless components, and time would be much tighter for those students. Our fish, on the other hand, was relatively simple to prepare, and even more simple to present. There was no plating, no garnishing. Each package would be placed on a plate, left for each judge to open himself.
My tomato fondue and mushroom duxelles bubbled on the stove as I fileted my fish, dragging my filet knife across its bones just as I had practiced. I prepared my vegetables: cutting them into tiny toothpicks that I would later cook gently in butter and a splash of water. I cut my parchment paper into hearts, just like I had learned, as my pate a choux quietly puffed in the oven, just like it was supposed to. The unbearable nerves I had felt earlier that morning gave way to confidence and a sense of serenity. I was doing what I loved, and I was doing it well.
As I slid my golden, puffed packages from the oven two minutes before service, I felt a surge of pride. And, as I watched my judges rip the paper open in a puff of steam, I knew that everything I had worked for in those past months had paid off. It is a feeling that I will always associate with papillotes, and it is one that I hope I will never forget.
golden tilefish + mushrooms en papillote
Cooking en papillote is a classic French technique that involves steaming within a sealed parchment paper package. It is incredibly simple to prepare, but makes for a really special presentation. In this recipe, I took inspiration from the classic French fish en papillote that I made while in culinary school, which consists of a mushroom duxelles, tomato fondue, and fish that is topped with julienne carrots, leeks, and celery cooked a l’etuvee, a sprig of thyme, and a splash of white wine. To simplify things a bit, and to add some texture, I skipped the duxelles (which is really just finely minced mushrooms sautéed in butter and shallots), and sautéed large pieces of the mushrooms in butter and white wine. And, instead of the vegetables, I topped my fish with a large dollop of herbed butter, which melts beautifully while cooking to leave a pile of steamed herbs above the fish.
for the mushrooms:
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
6 oz assorted mushrooms, roughly chopped (I used a combination of shiitake, enoki, and shimeji)
1/4 cup white wine
for the compound butter:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
salt + freshly ground black pepper
for the papillotes:
2 pieces parchment paper, about 16-in x 13-in in size
10 oz golden tilefish, cut into 2 5 oz skinless filets (or other white, lean fish like monkfish or grouper)
salt + freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons white wine
1 egg white, lightly beaten
oil for brushing
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large sauté pan over high heat, add the butter and oil. Once the butter has melted, add the mushrooms. Sauté mushrooms, moving them very little, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until the liquid has completely evaporated, 1 – 2 minutes longer. (It is important there is no excess liquid, as it will make the papillotes too wet when assembled). Season with salt to taste, remove from heat, and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the butter, tarragon, parsley, dill, and lemon zest. Mash with a fork to fully incorporate the herbs into the butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Place an empty sheet pan in the oven to preheat while you assemble the papillotes: fold one piece of parchment paper in half. Cut a half heart in the folded paper, so that when you unfold the parchment it will be in the shape of a full heart. Lay the heart open on a large working surface. Spoon half the mushrooms in a small pile on one side of the heart, about 1-inch from the crease. Top the pile with one of the fish filets and season with salt and pepper. Top the fish with a generous dollop of the compound butter (about 1 heaping tablespoon) and drizzle 1 teaspoon of white wine over the top. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush all along the edges of the heart with the egg white. Fold the heart in half, folding the empty side of the heart over the fish, and press the edges together to seal. Brush the top of the sealed edges with more egg wash, and starting at the top of the heart, make a series of short folds around the heart to seal. When you reach the end, fold the excess paper under the package. Repeat process with second piece of parchment. Bon Appétit has a great how-to video and step-by-step photos of this process here. (they don’t use egg white in the video, but I highly suggest you do, as it helps to seal the package effectively). Brush the tops of both packages with a light coating of oil (this just prevents the parchment from burning).
Carefully remove the preheated pan from the oven and place both packages on it, side by side. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 11 minutes. After 11 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and use scissors to snip a little hole in the crease of each package. Return the pan to the oven for 30 seconds – 1 minute longer (this step is optional, but it will allow for a nicer presentation, as the bag will stay puffed when out of the oven). Remove the pan and carefully transfer each package to a plate and serve immediately.
*(Ripping open the package to reveal the fish and all of the delicious aromas is the best part, so make sure to save that part for after you’ve sat down to the table)!
Yield: 2 main course servings