Looking to lighten up before spring rolls around? Start here: learn how to bake fish, which is naturally a lean protein, and learn to cook it without any added fat, oil, or heavy ingredients. In fact, this method uses just three ingredients to cook!
Fish is relatively fool-proof when it comes to baking: you toss it in the oven with some oil, seasonings, and maybe a crust or glaze, and cook it until flaky. But if you’re looking to lighten up your recipes, you can bake it with a method called en papillote, which means in paper or in parchment, and skip using any added fat, oils, dressings, or sauces—yet still come out with moisture-packed fish.
When cooking this recipe en papillote, the only three ingredients you really need are fish, seasoning, and citrus. And since this is more of a method than a recipe, and it’s versatile to no end, as you can play around with different fish, seasonings, and types of citrus, and always come out with a new dish.
You can cook this way with either a whole fish or using fish filets. Filets are certainly easier and more serving-friendly (and no bones!). Lay your fish, whether whole or a single filet, on a large piece of parchment paper—if cooking several filets, give each filet their own piece of parchment paper, as each piece will get cooked in its own pocket. Many chefs will cut their parchment paper into the shape of a heart for the sake of folding it up later. See this great tutorial from Epicurious.com on cutting parchment paper for en papillote.
Seasoning can be whatever seasoning you choose: salt, pepper, garlic salt, herbs de provence, dried basil, Cajun powder … your call, truly. Sprinkle any chosen seasoning on both sides of the fish. If you have fresh herbs on hand, skip using anything dried and instead layer a few sprigs of fresh herbs over the fish.
While citrus isn’t critical to baking fish, it really brightens the flavor in a way that no seasoning can, and it helps to cut some of the “fishy” flavor that some people don’t care for. Whatever your citrus of choice—lime, lemon, orange, mandarin, etc.—slice a few rounds of the fruit and place atop the fish. For a single filet of fish, you will only need one to three citrus slices; for a whole fish, you may need several slices to cover the surface.
Wrap it and bake it
Now you’re ready to bake your fish. You already have it resting atop parchment paper, and the trick here is to fold up the paper so tightly that it makes an airtight seal. Once again, refer to this to-the-point tutorial from Epicurious.com for a visual of how to fold your heart-shaped parchment paper into a tightly wrapped seal.
Place the parchment-wrapped fish on a baking sheet (in case any moisture leaks out of the parchment paper as it cooks), and bake at a preheated 400F oven for 10-13 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until it is cooked and flakes easily.
If you want to add more …
Ultimately, you can add all sorts of additional ingredients to your fish en papillote pocket to increase the flavor and bulk of it—julienned vegetables, a few drops of vegetable broth, a small dab of butter, maybe a splash of soy sauce—but that’s all up to you, and how experimental you’re feeling. Adding vegetables to your pocket will make this more of a meal-in-one, as they will steam alongside the fish and give you a veggie side. Adding a splash of broth, water, or juice will increase the moisture content as the fish steams. Adding a small dab of butter will increase the creaminess of the fish, as it will combine with the moisture as it steams to make an almost instant sauce inside the pocket.
As always, play around with ingredients that match your palate, and have fun trying out your own recipes.
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