This is just a quick post before I get on the plane back to London later tonight. It’s been a busy five weeks here in Washington, and while my parents both seem to think that cooking for all of us every evening is a chore, it’s probably my favorite part of the day! I suppose that’s how you know you really love what you do. The challenge has been in finding meals that each of us will find satisfying, and in my mother’s case, able to digest. In an effort to satiate my mom’s cravings for fresh, light flavors, I used up some leftover ingredients we had lurking in the crisper drawers to make this recipe which revisits a technique my instructors at the French Culinary Institute pounded into us on many occasions.
Cooking en papillot, as it’s called, is essentially steaming your ingredients inside a little sealed pouch filled with delightful aromatics. Beyond being incredibly tasty, it’s wonderful because clean up is minimal, the flavors are clean and bright, and it’s healthy. A joy for entertaining, you can prepare your parcels in the morning, store them in the fridge, and then cook when you’re ready to eat. A no-brainer, I think! If you’re going to be dining al fresco, simply trade out the parchment for aluminium foil and you can throw this on a grill. Once you master the papillot technique, the combinations are limitless.
Without photos, I think my instructions below many be a little confusing, so you can find more detailed photo instructions on creating your parchment parcel on Bon Appetite’s site. Also, you’ll notice I used sea scallops, not bay in my recipe, but this is only because I couldn’t get my hands on their tinier cousins. What I hope this illustrates is that you can substitute as you need in recipes. The bay scallops might be more desirable, but I have to say that the sea scallops were just as delicious. Also, my mom can’t eat fennel, so for her dish I swapped it out for julienned carrots. I served a nutty wild rice and mushroom pilaf on the side and felt very virtuous indeed!
While I’ve loved being here with my parents this summer, it is time to go home and get back to my “normal” life. My dear husband has just jetted off to cover the Israel-Gaza conflict, so we will have to wait a little longer to be reunited, but my forever faithful ginger cat is eagerly awaiting my return. I start work for a new client soon, have a few cupboards in need of an overhaul, and have a couple of interesting projects on the horizon. While all of this swirls around and percolates, I will get back into my routine, continue to cook, and love every minute of it!
1 zucchini, cut into quarters lengthwise and then chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
4 6oz pieces of cod
24 bay scallops or 8 sea scallops
1 tablespoon cold butter in 4 pieces
vermouth or white wine
fresh dill sprigs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare your parchment paper for the “en papillot” by tearing off four 24 inch wide sheets – now fold each in half and cut , this is reminiscent of making heart shaped valentines using construction paper when you were in elementary school. When you open the folded parchment you’ll have a perfect little pocket in which to place your ingredients.
Mix together the zucchini, red onion, and fennel and moisten with a slug of olive oil, salt and pepper for seasoning. Place this mixture in the middle below the fold in the bottom half of your parchment. Gently place the cod and scallops on top of the vegetables, season it with salt and pepper, a couple of dill fronds, a splash of vermouth, and a pat of butter.
To close the parchment package simply fold the top half over the bottom and fold together the edges, overlapping the folds just around the edges of the package. Place the sealed parcel on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven for 15 minutes.