I would say the title of this recipe represents perfectly one of those instances where, although in both french and english it says essentially the same thing, this dish sounds infinitely better in french. Pronounced pah-PEE-y-ote, I love not only this method of cooking but also just saying its name out loud; its inundations flitter on ones tongue like a dancing butterfly. No matter what language you say it in though, the process is always the same: wrap the fish or meat in question entirely in foil or oiled paper so no air can escape, and bake it in the oven in order to give the food a replenishing and hearty steam.
I find that this method works particularly well with salmon, because it’s a fatty fish and when it is heated in a small, confined space (as you create with the foil) the layers of fat in between its pink meat break down and soften the fillet in order to provide a tender texture which is very rich in flavor. I also think that we could call this dish “party in a bag,” because the experience of opening up the foil to discover what has been produced inside is quite a fun event, and one which is highly satisfactory once you taste the first bite! I can’t deny that I also had a grand old time opening the foil and watching pockets of steam rush out, then peering closer and seeing a perfectly cooked salmon surrounded by softly steamed mushroom slices, all of which smelled herbacious and highly fragrant.
To top it all off, this recipe only requires 5 ingredients!
A couple of notes: I mention in the recipe that you can use either olive oil or butter; I used a combination of both (a scant tablespoon of each), but you can certainly use just one or the other if you would like. I also love the combination of salmon and mushrooms – actually I love almost everything with mushrooms – but I’m sure you could put some fingerling potatoes, brussel sprouts, cabbage, spinach or kale in its place. I’m just thinking out loud, but we could probably even put some wild rice and a few tablespoons water alongside the fish, because everything is getting steamed and it may come out richly flavored and having absorbed some of the salmon fat. And now my stomach is growling just thinking about it.
Saumon en Papillote – Serves 1
1 salmon fillet
4-5 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
4-5 thyme sprigs, plus 1 tsp chopped
1 bay leaf
1-2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1. Wash and dry the salmon fillet and the mushrooms.
2. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. On the bottom (skin) side of the fish, cut an incision length-wise and insert the bay leaf.
3. Cut a large piece of aluminum foil – large enough to comfortably wrap around the salmon and mushrooms.
4. Place the thyme sprigs in the center of the foil; put the salmon on the foil, and surround it with the mushroom slices.
5. Drizzle everything with olive oil if using, or cut the butter into tiny pieces and drop them over the fish and mushrooms. Give a final sprinkling of salt and pepper for good luck, sprinkle the chopped thyme over the mushrooms, and pinch the foil together so the salmon is totally encased and no air can escape.
6. Bake in the oven until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.