Simple salmon en papillote today. One of those easy-peasy meals that more or less cooks itself but is delicious and impresses those who don’t know. It always reminds me of a certain evening in Paris – no, not a romantic one, but a pleasant one nevertheless. Back in the 1970’s one of my responsibilities was organising conferences there for the International Baccalaureate, where my official and totally meaningless title was Registrar.
I can’t remember the precise details of this particular conference, but a small group of the participating professors from England who spoke virtually no French invited me to accompany them for a meal in town, on the proviso that I would interpret for them. It’s hard to imagine nowadays, when our TV chefs have made terms like jus and timbale as everyday as salt and pepper, just quite how insular and culinarily-challenged the British were back then.
We picked a neat little restaurant with red-checked tablecloths and appetising smells, ordered our apéritifs and I explained the menu to them. They looked apprehensive and very doubtful until we got to saumon en papillote. At last, something they could envisage – salmon!
Their faces were a picture when their plates arrived with a square parchment-paper parcel, a bit charred around the edges, and a few sautéed potatoes alongside. It reminded them of sandwiches packed in greaseproof paper! However, a few minutes later, having unpacked the surprise, and tasted the contents, they were beaming.
Nowadays, I mostly use aluminium foil rather than greaseproof paper, though I have seen recipes for this dish with clingfoil and no doubt it also works in the microwave. I am wary about overcooking so haven’t tried the microwave option, nor the suggestion – which seems quite feasible – that you could cook saumon en papillote in the dishwasher during a normal full cycle. Let me know if you are adventurous enough to attempt that, I’d be interested to know if it works.
You need, per person, one salmon steak plus a bed of vegetables made up of half a carrot cut into matchsticks, a few thin slices of courgette, a little finely chopped onion (spring onion is best), a little garlic if you like, and 2 sweet cherry tomatoes. Make sure your square of foil or paper is big enough to fold over and enclose these with the salmon steak on top. Add a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a sprinkling of parsley and dill, and 2 slices of lemon on top. Then fold the sides and ends of the foil or paper together neatly to seal the parcel and prevent any juices escaping, and bake in a medium oven for 15 – 20 minutes. We had a jacket potato and steamed broccoli with ours, and a small dollop of seafood sauce (basically, mayonnaise with some ketchup, mustard and crushed capers mixed in).
You can use all kinds of vegetables besides carrots, of course. Fennel goes well, especially with a little slosh of Pernod, and Tana Ramsay has a recipe here that sounds like something children might like to be involved in making.
I am tempted to try a spoonful of ginger wine and a little grated ginger next time. Naturally, a smidgen of such is permissible, as is a dash of white wine or the afore-mentioned Pernod if you want a slightly aniseed flavour. But a word of caution: you don’t want to overwhelm the delicate flavour of the salmon, so don’t be too heavy-handed with things like garlic, ginger and chilli here.
Now though, having issued this warning , I am reminded of my Indonesian friend who took one mouthful of my carefully seasoned salmon and asked, “Have you any sambal oelek?”