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Black Cod en Papillote with Ginger and Scallions

Fish in Papillote with Ginger and Scallions

When I was a kid, one of my favorite dishes was steamed whole fish with ginger and scallions, which you can find in most authentic Chinese restaurants. My parents used to make it at home pretty often and it was one of the first things I learned how to cook. The problem is, it can be a pain to steam a whole fish if you don’t have the right equipment — a pot large enough to fit the fish, a way to lift the pan out of the pot, etc. You can pretty easily steam fish in the microwave, but I don’t have the counter space for one of those. And those fish steamer/poacher things I’ve seen are a travesty. You lose all of the tasty fish juice!

The other problem is that Rourke has no idea how to eat whole fish without choking on the bones. The first couple of times he tried it was distressing to witness: childlike grimace as he picked out the bones with his fingers, scary gagging as a bone that he missed made its way down his throat. Who can enjoy a meal with all of that ruckus going on?

After a little research, I found this method of cooking fish en papillote, which roughly translates to cooking fish in a parchment paper pouch. The fish steams in its own juices so you retain all of that wonderful flavor, and by using filets, you don’t endanger your spouse’s life every time s/he eats it. Win, win!

My favorite fish to use for this is black cod (aka sablefish or butterfish), although I’ve also used tilapia, snapper, sole, etc. Make sure you serve this with rice, so that you can mix in all of that yummy sauce that collects at the bottom of the pouch. My brother and I used to fight over the last drops of sauce when we were kids.

Fish Filet en Papillote with Ginger and Scallions
- serves 2 -

2/3 lb. fillet of black cod, snapper, tilapia, or other white, flaky fish
1.5-2 cups of baby shiitake or other mushroom, cleaned and roughly chopped into bite size or so chunks
2″ knob of ginger, rinsed and unpeeled, cut lengthwise into thin-ish slices
1 bunch of scallions, green parts only, cut into 1″ segments
seasoned soy sauce for seafood* or regular soy sauce
olive oil or canola oil
kosher salt
2 sheets of parchment paper, approx. 18″ long

1. In a skillet over medium heat, heat 1 Tbs. of olive oil and saute the mushrooms until they begin to release water and are cooked halfway. Season with a pinch or two of salt. The mushrooms will finish cooking in the pouch, but you want some of the water released beforehand so that your pouch doesn’t get waterlogged. When mushrooms are finished, set aside in the pan.

2. Preheat oven to 400°F.

3. Fold each of the parchment sheets in half lengthwise, and cut each into a half moon shape. When you’re finished, open up both sheets and you should have two full circles of parchment paper with a crease running down the middle.

4. Rinse and pat the fish fillets dry, cutting the fillets in half if necessary to make two servings. Season the fish with salt.

Fish in Papillote with Ginger and Scallions15. Assemble the pouches. The ingredients should be centered vertically on the parchment circles, but just to the right of the crease. Put half of the sauteed mushrooms on the parchment, then place half of the fish on top of the mushrooms. Drizzle about 1 tsp. of olive oil over the fish and lightly rub the oil into the fish. Top with half of the ginger slices. Repeat with the other pouch.

6. Now comes the trickiest part. Fold the other half of the parchment paper over the fish. Starting at the bottom left corner, begin to seal the pouch by making a lengthwise fold along the edge. Continue, making tight overlapping folds along the edge until you’ve completely sealed the pouch. The folds need to be tight so that as steam builds in the pouch, it doesn’t escape. The first couple of times I did this, I didn’t trust my folds and I put four staples along the edge just to make sure. Looking back on it, I was crazy.

Fish in Papillote with Ginger and Scallions2 Fish in Papillote with Ginger and Scallions3

Fish in Papillote with Ginger and Scallions4 Fish in Papillote with Ginger and Scallions5

7. Place the pouches on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 12 minutes.

8. When the fish is almost ready, heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 Tbs of olive oil and saute the scallions until soft and bright green, less than a minute. Try to time it so that the scallions are finished at the same time that the fish is ready to come out of the oven.

9. When ready, take the pouches out of the oven. The pouches should be puffed up from the steam and will look something like this:

Fish in Papillote with Ginger and Scallions6

10. To serve, use scissors to cut an “x” in the top of the pouches and tear back the folds. Be careful as hot steam will escape. You’ve been warned!

11. Divide the scallions over the fish and drizzle (seasoned) soy sauce over.

* Seasoned soy sauce for seafood can be found in Asian markets, and is essentially regular soy sauce with sugar. There are other seasoned soy sauces, e.g., for dumplings, so make sure you’re picking up the right one. If you don’t have this on hand, you can easily substitute with regular soy sauce, or you can make your own by combining soy sauce and sugar to taste.


    1. Jenn says:

      Jen – I tried this, really good, but I wasn’t sure what to do with the ginger. We removed it, but then put some on the side b/c it tastes so good with the fish. Have you ever tried grating some over the top instead?

    2. JL McNamara says:

      Hm, I’ve never tried grating ginger over it. I usually throw out the slices of ginger, though Rourke sometimes likes gnawing on it. I can’t eat slices of ginger like that. Talking about this reminds me of a fish dish we had in Cambodia. Not sure what the correct name of it is, but I remember it as Ginger Catfish. Chunks of catfish were stir fried with must have been at least 3 cups of julienned ginger that was almost deep-fried. Delicious.

    3. I am trying this recipe tonight. Didn’t think the cremini mushrooms I have on hand would do much for the flavor so I’m just letting the fish sit on slivered scallions. On top will be the sliced ginger and a tidge of thinly sliced scallion greens and thinly sliced lemongrass. I didn’t have fish soy sauce so I thought, what the heck, let’s do like she suggests and just added a little sugar. Still didn’t really achieve the taste I knew you were talking about so I decided to dilute the soy sauce a bit with water and then remembered I have sake in the fridge. Yes! Added sake which surprisingly really toned down the saltiness of the soy sauce. I think it might also help bring out the sweetness of the sugar. Who knows? We’ll see tonight! (I am forever making menues for company that I’ve never tried before which frustrates the hell out of my partner but hey so far I’ve been lucky. Why should I stop now?)

    4. JL McNamara says:

      Hey Pat: How’d it turn out? I’m impressed that you took the time to tinker with the soy sauce! Growing up, my parents just used plain soy sauce. I think that the scallion oil likely tamed the saltiness of the soy sauce and all was delicious. My dad only told me about the seafood soy sauce within the past 5 years or so and while it does taste better than plain soy sauce, the original is still pretty great!

    5. pat biesheuvel says:

      man! is this a late response!
      i remember that it turned out great! black cod isn’t exactly an everyday fish but certainly one of the best ever.
      will be trying this again.

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