Yay, the heat wave broke and to celebrate I’m firing up the oven! One of my favorite things about summer, besides the lack of perpetual rain that makes the Pacific NW so verdant, is salmon season. Pacific salmon provides the best of both worlds, firm and toothy with enough omega-3 fatty acids to keep it moist enough to withstand whatever cooking method you want to throw at it, even cedar plank grilling (don’t worry, a maple-soy sauce recipe is waiting in the wings :D). This is a very simple dish that looks elegant enough to impress your most jaded gastrosnobs while allowing you to take advantage of all that great summer produce. Since the flavors are so simple you could easily change this from a French-styled dish to a Mediterranean one to an Asian one simply by switching out a few key ingredients. Francophile? Try lemon rounds, garlic, squash, and a dry white wine. Fantasizing of a subtropical holiday with azure seas and white sand? Pop in some tomatoes, kalamata olives (or capers if you prefer), red onion, olive oil, and some fennel. 日本の食品愛? Can you say eggplant, shiitake, ginger, dashi, and mirin?
Okay, so maybe it’s not as easy as that otherwise Brasserie Trop Chère would be out of business, non? Cooking en papillote, literally “in parchment,” is a very simple cooking method that basically steams food using the juices of your ingredients coupled with whatever seasoning sauces/liquids that provide the flavors that you want to highlight. The trick to remember is that since you’re basically making your own fancy pants TV dinner, everything inside the pouch has to finish cooking at the same time and that is influenced by the thickness as well as inherent liquid content of the ingredients. Items that take longer to cook, say starches like squash or potatoes, need to be thinly sliced or julienned so that they won’t be crunchy and undercooked while your spinach has turned into mush and that lovely fillet now bears a disturbing resemblance to your favorite footwear. Wait, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and a slurp of your fave beverage. Ah, so much better. I like to consider this the “bruising” test of cookability. If you can bruise it or crush it with your hands it’s got a fast cooking time, ie leaf veggies (cabbage) and thin-skinned fleshy veggies (tomatoes and berries). Intermediate cooking time items can be bruised with steady pressure, ie zucchini, asparagus, and mushrooms so will need to be julienned or thinly sliced to allow them to cook faster. Things with the longest cooking times have a woody texture or thick shell and can even be dropped on the floor (sure, test it if you want lol) without significant bruising, ie potatoes, squash (butternut, kabocha,…), broccoli…you get the idea. These will need to be either blanched or sautéed for a couple minutes so that they’re still crisp and bendy but not hard before adding to the pouch. In terms of liquid, if you have mainly drier ingredients, usually the longer cooking time ones you will want to have 1-1 1/2 tbsp of additional liquid which can be booze (wine, vermouth, sake…), broth, and seasonings (soy sauce, lemon juice,…). The more liquidy/fastest cooking ingredients really don’t need additional liquid so adding additional flavor may involve drier seasonings like spices, garlic, ginger, or pickles like olives or capers. I like to have a mixture of each because you also get a variety of texture. Whew, I’m exhausted now, where’s my salmon? Good thing it takes 1/4 the time to make this dish as it does to explain it! Since this method uses individual pouches per serving, I’ll post it as a single serving so you can just lather, rinse, and repeat for how people you’re feeding 🙂
1) If you don’t have parchment paper aluminum foil works just as well altho the presentation is not as pretty. Actually, a few companies even make foil and parchment pouches so no folding and rolling necessary. I prefer parchment rolls because it gives me the flexibility of different sized items and rolling the edges sealed is really quick and painless.
2) If you don’t want to heat up the house you can even do this on the BBQ grill using aluminum pouches and indirect heat by piling the coals on one side of the grill and placing the pouch on the opposite side with the lid on creating a BBQ “oven.” You will need a grill lid thermometer for success with this manlier technique 😉
3) Don’t use frozen veggies for this method, the freezing breaks down the cellulose structure making them mushy and the additional liquid from freezing will increase the mushiness. Bleh.
4) Make sure that your parchment paper is at least 2 or 2 1/2 times the size of your bed of ingredients so you have enough space to seal the edges as well as allowing for the pouch to puff up with steam as it cooks. Many recipes have you fold the paper in half and cut it into a heart shape but I find that I can still fit the parchment on a dinner plate without taking that extra step, keeping it square in shape before I start sealing.
5) If you have a salmon-loving pooch like I do, you can cook up the discarded skins as a treat. I just cook them in a skillet on med-hi heat until the skin is crispy and any attached flesh is tough and dry. Why? Pacific salmon can have a parasite that’s not harmful to humans but can be fatal to dogs if they ingest raw salmon–90% of dogs that show symptoms after eating raw salmon die after 14 days if not treated. I figure overcooked salmon is better than potentially letting some parasites live to wreak havoc on my furry boo-boo.
1 5-oz, 1-inch thick salmon fillet, pin bones and skin removed
1/4 tsp crushed garlic
1/4 tsp salt
A pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp dried thyme
4-5 cherry tomatoes
4 1/2-inch thick slices yellow squash, skin on
4 1/2-inch thick slices zucchini, skin on
2 paper thin slices of shallot
1 1/2-inch thick lemon round, skin on
Preheat oven to 400F (most parchment paper is made to withstand up to 425F).
Fold a 24 inch by 13 inch piece of parchment paper in half to create a 12 by 13 inch crease. Open up paper like a book and fan zucchini and squash slices on one half of the paper to create a bed for the salmon to lie flat on. Top with shallot slices and place salmon on top. Rub salmon with crushed garlic creating a thin layer then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme. Put lemon round on top of salmon. Place tomatoes and capers on fillet and vegetable bed.
Fold the top half of the parchment paper over the salmon as if you’re closing a book, lining up the edges. Starting at a corner away from the center fold roll the paper edge in towards the salmon 3 rotations. Continue to roll edges over in this manner moving in a clockwise direction until all the edges are sealed. Place on a rolled edge baking sheet or jelly roll pan–you shouldn’t have any drips since the pouch has been sealed, but just in case….Place in center rack of oven and set a timer for 12-3 minutes which will give you a fillet that is opaque in the center. The pouch will puff up pretty dramatically, 4-5 inches thick showing you steam power in action! Remove baking sheet from oven and pop pouch by snipping the top at 12 o’clock away from you to avoid any released steam. Pick up pouch by the sealed edges and place on a plate. Cut top off pouch and remove to give easy access to that succulent, delicious salmon et bon appétit et au revoir Brasserie Trop Chère 😉