When you first hear the words en papillote, the French term sounds refined, even pretentious. Yet this simple method of preparing fish roasted in foil is actually quite modest. Constructing foil packets that steam individual pieces of fish creates an elegant presentation that is both healthy and sinfully delicious.

My first experience with this dish, saumon en papillote, was served at a three-star restaurant in Paris. The salmon filet, topped with thin slivers of fresh ginger, lime and a sprinkling of shallots proved just how delicious en papillotte can be. When the balloon-size packet enclosing the fish was opened at the table, notes of heavenly citrus and ginger billowed out. Steaming the fish alongside the fresh fruit and seasonings created a decadent sauce without added butter or oil. The fish was wonderfully moist and infused with flavor.

Enticed by other chefs who swore this was a simple way to prepare fish, I decided to try my hand. In truth, the most intimidating part was determining when the fish was done; since it is wrapped in foil, you cannot see or touch it. In the end, I learned to squelch my desire to peer inside the packet and to trust the cooking times offered in recipes.

Preparing foods en papillotte lends itself to small and large gatherings. Cooking for two, I utilize a toaster oven heated to 400 degrees. For a more substantial dinner party, I prepare and refrigerate ahead of time as many portions as needed and bring them to room temperature just before roasting.

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I love making fish this way because there is no clean-up. Without a sink full of dirty dishes, the only thing that lingers after preparing this recipe is the rich aroma of mushrooms and fresh ginger.

Halibut En Papillote with Mushrooms

Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 large or 2 medium lemons
  • 4 (4-oz.) pieces halibut
  • 16 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. grated or minced ginger
  • 2 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed
  • 2 oz. white mushrooms, stemmed
  • 1 medium orange bell pepper, seeded

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and ginger. Set aside.
  2. Cut the mushrooms and bell pepper into 1/4-inch slices and place in mixing bowl. Add the shallots, salt and a generous pinch of black pepper.
  3. Cut the lemon into eight very thin slices, reserving the ends. Set the lemon slices aside. Squeeze the juice from the ends of the lemon over the mushroom and peppers. Mix to coat the vegetables with the lemon juice.
  4. Make four 12-inch x 12-inch squares of heavy-duty aluminum foil and coat the dull side with cooking spray. Place a piece of fish in the center of each foil square. For each serving, spoon one-fourth of the soy sauce vinaigrette over the fish. Top with two lemon slices and add one-fourth of the vegetables. Top each with four thyme sprigs or sprinkle with one-fourth of the dried thyme. To seal the packets, bring two opposite sides of the foil together over the fish and roll down three or four times. Roll in the short ends to seal the packet. Place the packets on a baking sheet.
  5. Bake 20 minutes, or until the fish is white at the thickest part and the vegetables are tender. To serve, immediately place each packet on a dinner plate. At the table, advise guests to open the packets very carefully, as there will be hot steam.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
148 calories
3 g total fat
<1 g saturated fat
5 g carbohydrate
24 g protein
<1 g dietary fiber
535 mg sodium

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Diabetic Exchanges: 3 Low-fat Meat; 1 Vegetable