Thursday, July 10, 2014

Saving Yourself from Culinary Idiocy feat. Haddock en papillote


There are things every cook should know and do, like how to boil an egg, julienne a carrot or peel garlic. There are others that tread on the far more intricate and obscure but are also damn useful. Being a culinary hobbyist has led me to research and attempt a variety of cooking techniques. One that I haven't attempted before is en papillote. En papillote ('in parchment') is a French technique where you steam a bunch of tasty goodness in a sealed package created out of parchment paper. I used the following recipe from Food Network as the basis for a recipe, but I had it in mind to use Thai flavours instead of classic French. So using the same basic ingredient list as the online recipe, I cobbled something together on one of my many loose bits of paper, including the side noodle salad(which I'll probably feature in another post since I make it fairly often):

My super-tidy professional recipe stylings

So far so good. I had a road map. (Wondering what the title is all about? Hang in there...)

Thai-Style Haddock en papillote

(Ingredients and Directions are per serving)


2 haddock fillets (or any firm white fish fillet)
1 small red or orange peppers, julienned
1 shallot, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced or thinly sliced
1/2 inch piece ginger, minced
1 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2-3 sprigs fresh mint
2-3 sprigs fresh Thai basil (didn't have any for this time, but it should be in the recipe)
1/4 lime, cut into thin disks (about 3-4 pieces)
3-4 kaffir lime leaves (fresh or dried)
2 tbsp dry white wine
1 tsp coconut butter or coconut oil (we used this stuff, and it's a-maaaazing!)

A rainbow of tasty!

Directions v.1

Because of the hilarious nature of this post, I'm going to tell the story of what I did with this recipe that led to the screw-up, and then I'll post the actual directions.

First, I mixed the vegetables, garlic and ginger with the fish sauce and oil and allowed them to marinate for a little bit.

Then, after futzing about on the Internet (again) to find the instructions on how to make the parchment pouch, I pretty much did my own thing. Basically, I took a fairly large piece of parchment paper and placed all the ingredients on one side of the about-2-foot-long piece of parchment layered it with fish, seasonings, veggies, herbs and coconut butter on top.

I then folded the paper over the food and then folded the edges super-tight going around the entire package, sealing the whole deal. It's important to make sure you fold each side about 5-6 times to make sure you're getting a tight seal. Squeeze the air out if you need to.

Now, here's where it all went wrong: "Hey, I can cook this on the BBQ!" I lit the fire, put the parchment package and thought all would be well. Turns out that while parchment paper doesn't catch on fire in the oven, it *does* when you put it on a fiery grill! I was in the kitchen making the salad to go on the side when I noticed smoke coming from the BBQ. Naturally, I'm used to seeing smoke come out of my BBQ/smoker. Then the light bulb of "oh sh**!" went off. First, this dish isn't supposed to smoke, it's supposed to steam internally, hmmmmm...  And two, HOLY CRAP THAT'S A LOT OF SMOKE!!!!!!!

Running out to the rescue the food, I flipped the BBQ lid open to find the edges of the parchment smoking and starting to blacken. EEEEEEEEEP! Luckily I have hands that are highly heat-resistant from my past as a line cook, so I was able to grab the almost flaming parchment package and remove it from the fire. Whew!

Never the twain shall meet...

Turns out that the food inside the parchment pouch was OK! (maybe slightly more smoky flavoured  than intended... oops). I could still save dinner! YAY!

Which leads me to the REAL directions for this meal:

Directions v.2

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix garlic, ginger and vegetables with sesame oil and allow to marinate for up to 20 minutes.
- Take a two-foot long piece of parchment paper and layer fish, fish sauce, vegetables, wine, lime slices and herbs on one half of paper, topping with coconut butter.
- Fold one half of paper over ingredients. Crimp and fold edges of package very tightly (about 5-6 times per side) to ensure a sealed package. Gently squeeze air out of package. Repeat per serving.
- Place package on a cookie sheet and cook in oven for 12-15 minutes, depending on thickness and desired doneness
- Remove package and cut open. Pour out contents into a high-rimmed plate or bowl and serve immediately.

Dinner is saved!

So, the food was salvaged from a fiery fate, but how did it taste? Actually, despite my boneheaded lack of understanding of physics (fire + paper = bad), it was a success! The Thai flavour profiles of fish sauce, coconut and basil came through beautifully in the broth, the fish was well-cooked (maybe a smidge overcooked) while the veggies weren't mushy, nor underdone (essentially perfect!). Above all, the whole thing popped with a light and fresh vibrancy thanks to the lime, mint, and white wine. I'm still amazed at how it turned out tasting EXACTLY how I wanted it to.

The whole experience of "setting dinner on fire but somehow saving it" struck me as a bit of a culinary miracle, but hey, I'll take it! I'm curious to see how it'll turn out next time when I know what I'm doing...

So, even the worst screw-ups can be salvaged, if you move fast enough...