The Gulf Coast, where I’m from, or “third coast” as many call it, is home to a plethora of seafood, and seafood is part of many classic Southern dishes, from gumbo to oysters Rockefeller. So I was happy to move to another seafood-oriented city. The Pacific Northwest is home to a variety of amazing seafood that can be enjoyed throughout the year, but the salmon is simply superb. Growing up, I rarely ate salmon, so it wasn’t a fish I was familiar with, but it was one I wanted to get to know more about. Walking through Pike Place Market, I was able to try salmon prepared in ways I’ve never had before.
Many fish varieties found in the Gulf are commonly prepared fried due to their gamey fish taste. But rather than hide the delicate salmon behind fry batter, I want to bring in a bouquet of aromatics to enhance the flavor. French cooking does this effortlessly. En papillote is a cooking technique that means “enveloped in paper.” Salmon will be put into a folded parchment pouch along with aromatics before being baked. Butter makes everything better, including fish. I like to add a lemon-herb compound butter to give the fillet a velvety, smooth texture and add another depth of flavor.
This dish will make your place smell amazing and is perfect for date night. Each person can customize their envelope of goodness to their liking. Pair with grains, vegetables and a nice glass of wine for a lovely date-night meal.
Salmon en papillote
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10-12 minutes
Makes: 2 servings
For the salmon packets:
- 2 salmon fillet portions (skin on or off, it’s your choice, but the skin will not get crispy)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lemon, cut into 6 slices
- 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard (divided)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 shallot (or half a red onion), thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons neutral oil (if not using butter)
- Compound butter (optional); recipe to follow
- 4 sprigs fresh tarragon
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
For the compound butter:
- 1 stick butter (½ cup), softened
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Mix basil, parsley, lemon and salt into softened butter with a fork.
- Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap. Scoop the butter mixture into a fairly thick log (about half the size of the stick of butter) into the middle of the plastic wrap. You should have a decent amount of plastic wrap on either side of herb butter.
- Fold plastic wrap lengthwise to encapsulate the butter log. Grab both ends of the plastic wrap and twist a few times in the air. This will let the butter form into a loose cylinder log. If the plastic wrap gets air inside it, that’s OK. You can let a little air out and roll the log on a surface. It doesn’t have to be perfect!
- Place in freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.
For the salmon packets:
1. Preheat oven 400 degrees.
2. Lay out a sheet of parchment paper, roughly 12 by 16 inches (adjust as needed based on the size of your salmon fillet).
3. Construct each pouch as follows:
- Season both sides of salmon with salt and pepper.
- Place 3 lemon slices down. This should be on one half side of the parchment paper to allow room to fold.
- Lay the salmon portion on top.
- Brush fillet with 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard.
- Sprinkle half the garlic and half the shallots on top.
- If using compound butter, remove it from the freezer. Cut a disc (as thick as you’d like) off your log, remove plastic wrap and set on top of salmon. If your salmon portion is large, I recommend breaking it up and spreading it across the fillet.
- Lay 2 tarragon and 2 rosemary sprigs around the fillet.
4. Once you have all items in the pouch, fold your parchment paper over the salmon. It is OK if the parchment touches the salmon. I recommended using scissors to cut a semicircle around the parchment before sealing.
5. Fold a corner of the pouch and begin to seal the pouch by rolling parchment edges toward your fillet. Do not roll all the way to the salmon; a couple of rolls will do. Work incrementally in sections until the pouch is sealed.
6. Place pouches on a baking sheet, and into the preheated oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes depending on the size of your salmon. Most 4- to 9-ounce salmon fillets should cook within 10 minutes. If your salmon fillet is more than 10 ounces, go with the longer time.
7. When ready to serve, cut open your pouch to release the beautiful smells. You can scoop the salmon out and serve, or open the pouch and add your completed sides to it. Brown rice and couscous are grains that pair well with this dish.