A 19th-century chef at Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans is credited with creating Pompano en Papillote. No doubt he did create the recipe, which was built not only of pompano but also of shrimp, crab meat, oysters, good white wine and various spices, all of which, if purchased today, would send the price soaring into the neighborhood of a tank of gasoline.
But don’t let that frighten you away from using the very same approach with less costly ingredients. It is perhaps the easiest of all ways in which to prepare a wide variety of seafood recipes.
The only tricky part of this preparation—except for learning to pronounce the name—is cutting a sheet of parchment paper into the butterfly shape suggested by the French phrase en papillote. But you don’t even have to jump those two tiny hurdles unless you’re trying to impress your mother-in-law. Instead, skip the French and call the preparation something else—Seafood in a Bag, Fish in Foil, whatever.
Yes, heavy duty aluminum foil works just as well parchment paper and neither one need be rendered into a special shape. A plain old square does the job just fine. What? You’re out of foil too? Still no reason to give up. Your recipe will turn out scrumptiously if enveloped in nothing more than an oiled brown paper bag or heavy brown paper.
Here you’ll find two recipes for the preparation. The first is a regular one with me, made with a commonplace but tasty array of vegetables. The other is fancier, for special occasions.
Fillets of Fish in Foil for Four
4 fish fillets about 4 oz. each (or add or sub other seafoods)
1 medium potato, sliced extra thin
1 small zucchini, sliced thin
1 small yellow squash, sliced thin
1 small carrot, sliced thin or julienned
1/2 small onion, sliced thin
2 tsp. chopped ginger root
2 tbsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped, or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
4 tsp. butter or margarine
1/4 cup white wine or citrus juice
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut four pieces of heavy duty foil into 14-inch squares. All ingredients will be divided into fourths. In the center of one side of each square, arrange potato slices to approximate the size and shape of your fillet. Place one fillet on each bed of the potato. Arrange slices of vegetables on top of fish in two or three layers. Distribute ginger and thyme over veggies. Sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic powder lightly over all. Finally, add one pat of butter and one tablespoon of wine or juice to each packet.
Fold over the foil and crimp all edges tightly. Place packets on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer each packet to a dinner plate. Proceeding carefully to avoid burning your fingers, open foil and serve immediately.
Antoine’s original recipe for Pompano en Papillote is said to have remained a carefully guarded secret for all these years, but maybe the following version is close. Even if it isn’t, go ahead and enjoy it anyway.
POMPANO EN PAPILLOTE
4 pompano fillets (or other fish of choice)
8 shrimp, raw, medium or large
8 oysters, raw (optional)
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
Dash of pepper
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 tbsp. butter or margarine
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. dry sherry
2 tbsp. snipped parsley
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper or foil into 14-inch squares. Thaw fillets and shrimp, if frozen, and pat dry with paper towels. In a skillet over medium heat, sauté mushrooms and onion in butter until soft but not brown. Stir in flour, tarragon, salt and pepper. Add water, milk and sherry, continuing to stir, until mix thickens.
Place 1 fillet in center of each sheet. Place 2 shrimp and 2 oysters atop each fillet. Spoon about 1⁄4 cup sauce over each fillet. Fold and tightly crimp all four sides of foil or paper. Place packets on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes. Transfer packets to four dinner plates. Open packets. Serve immediately.
If you simply must stick to the true spirit of papillote, you’ll need to use a heart-shaped piece of parchment paper, because a square does not meet the demands of the traditionalist. You only have to fold a 14-inch square of paper in half and then—using the talent you honed back in kindergarten—cut out a heart. Finally, open the heart, place your ingredients in the center of one side, fold the other half over to form the papillote, and crimp the edges all around. At serving time, slice down the length of the heart with a sharp knife and lay back the paper.
Florida Sportsman Classic from the August, 2011 issue.