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How to Cook Fish 'en Papillote'

The French method of enclosing and baking fish in packets of parchment paper steams the fish and seals in a whole lot of flavor

How to Cook Fish 'en Papillote'
Learn how to cook Fish 'en Papillote' with this recipe.

Next time you’re cooking fish for dinner guests, serve up a very special and impressive meal using the classic French cooking technique called “en papillote,” in which pieces of fish are sealed, then baked, in packets of parchment paper.

The fish is gently steamed inside the pouch, which seals in moisture and prevents flavorful juices from evaporating. When done, the packets are served on plates, and when each person cuts into one, it’s like opening a present for dinner. The wonderful aromas of the delicious food inside are sure to inspire the same chorus of ohs and ahs as gifts under a Christmas tree.

Cooking en papillote is much easier than most people think and produces a dish deliciously low in fat. The parchment pouches can be assembled hours before dinner, refrigerated and popped into the oven just before meal time. These self-contained meals also cut down on messy pots and pans, making cleanup easy.

Although aluminum foil can be substituted, parchment paper is the traditional material used. This heavy paper is specially treated to have a smooth, impermeable surface that resists moisture and grease. As long as it does not directly touch a flame, the paper won’t burn in the oven. It’s available in the same section of the supermarket where you find foil and waxed paper.

The basis for the term “en papillote,” which is derived from the French word for butterfly, is the way the parchment paper is cut to form the individual packets. A piece of parchment large enough to generously enclose each serving of fish is folded in half. Then the edges are cut to form half a heart shape. It will look like a full heart or the wings of a butterfly when unfolded.

The food is placed on one side of the heart, and the opposite side is folded over it. The edge then is crimped tightly to seal the parchment.

There are two keys to successful en papillote cooking. The first is to seal the edges of the packets completely so steam cannot escape. This can be done by firmly crimping together the sides or brushing egg white on the edges to assist in sealing.

The second key is to leave room inside the packet to allow air to circulate and the packet to expand. Some cooks insert a straw into the last corner of the packet to be crimped and inflate the packet before removing the straw and sealing the corner.

Preparation is largely the same for any type of fish. Brush butter or oil on the inside of the packet where the food will rest, then add the fish along with other ingredients such as herbs and thinly sliced vegetables. If desired, a little liquid or butter is added to the top of the food.

After sealing, the packets are placed on a baking sheet, a little oil is brushed on the top of each, and the pan is put in a preheated oven. Fish is cooked at 425 degrees, about 10 minutes for a fillet or steak 1-inch thick or less. The bag should be very puffy and brown when the dish is done. Packets also can be cooked in a microwave.

If you like, you can unseal one corner (do not allow the steam to burn you) and insert an instant thermometer to be sure the food is properly cooked. Fish is done at 145-150 degrees F.

Remove the packets onto a plate, and when ready to eat, cut an X shape in the top and peel back the corners. You’ll love the way fish tastes after cooking this way.

Microwave Catfish en Papillote Recipe

Microwave Catfish en Papillote RecipeCook this catfish en papillote recipe, two packets at a time, in a microwave on high for 6 minutes. (Chelsie Walters photo)

Microwaving catfish "en papillote" means a quick, delicious dinner with almost no cleanup.


  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 4 (6-ounce) catfish fillets
  • 1 red pepper, cut in thin strips
  • 2 ounces ham, cut in thin strips
  • 8 lemon slices

Click here to get full recipe.

Striped Bass en Papillote Recipe

Striped Bass en Papillote RecipeThis en papillote recipe features striped bass fillets, thick slices of fresh tomato, orange zest and fresh herbs.

Wrapping your bass and baking it in parchment paper will not only seal in the flavor, but it will make your guests feel like they're opening a present for dinner.


  • 4 (6-ounce) striped bass fillets
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 (¼-inch-thick) tomato slices (from 3-4 medium tomatoes)
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • Zest from ½ orange, removed in long wide strips with a vegetable peeler and cut crosswise into very thin strips
  • 4 fresh herb sprigs, such as sage, thyme or parsley

Click here to get full recipe.

Fish en Papillote Recipe for Two

Microwave Catfish en Papillote RecipeServe this fish en papillote dinner for two with a side of oven roasted asparagus.

Cook just about any fish "en papillote" style for a speedy, flavorful dinner and even quicker cleanup.


  • 1 medium red or yellow pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, fresh-ground black pepper
  • 2 (6-ounce) fish fillets (your choice)

Click here to get full recipe.

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