One of my favorite preparations for fish is to bake it in parchment paper following the method called "en papillote". I learned this in a Techniques of Fish course I took a couple of years ago at the Institute of Culinary Education here in New York. The fish is usually on a mound of vegetables and some kind of liquid and then tightly wrapped up in the paper to make a self-contained pouch. The liquid may vary, but juice, wine, stock, liqueurs or aperitifs are all good choices. The fish is steamed within the paper so unless you really mess up the temperature or time, it's always very moist and tender.
There are endless ingredients and combinations with this method and once I became comfortable with it, I started really experimenting beyond the recipes I learned in class. The most important aspects to remember are that you're steaming instead of baking and therefore, you should take care to use many interesting flavors and herbs that will produce natural juices in addition to the liquid that you add. The fish will take on the flavor of what you steam it with so make sure it's not bland! Practice in making the packet seal well is important too so if you've ever crimped pie dough it'll help you get it right. I didn't take the time to take enough photos of the packaging steps, that's where I needed a photographic assistant. This link shows the basic steps. If you have questions please comment on this post and I'll explain to everyone.
I prefer delicate, usually white fish en papillote; good choices are halibut, sea bass, sole and in this case orange roughy. I also built the idea and recipe around gorgeous cranberry beans from one of my market hunts.
Since I'd never worked with cranberry beans before, it was fun to discover exactly how they changed properties, taste and texture throughout the stages. As you can see, they are gorgoeus pink and white mottled beans and pods in the raw state. Sadly, when cooked the become a dullish gray or white with a tinge of pink and lose their "spots". Maybe they should be called fawn beans instead...
I blanched the beans first after tasting them raw-- very starchy, thick and bitter like a lima bean. When they were blanched they had a more mushy texture, lost their vibrant pink and started to develop a nutty flavor. I worked into the vegetable mixed from there, coming up with something that turned out quite delicious and balanced.
Here's the recipe to serve 4.
For the vegetable base:
2 medium purple bell peppers (or red or yellow), thinly julienned
1 cup cranberry beans, blanched
2 leeks thinly sliced in rounds
1 orange, zested and juice freshly squeezed
1 lime, zested and juice freshly squeezed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T tarragon, minced
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the fish:
2 orange roughy fillets, each cut in half
2 T dry white wine
8 pats unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Place a baking sheet in oven. Shell cranberry beans by removing from their pods, rinse well. Bring a small pot of water to boiling, salt generously and add the beans to the water and blanch for 6-7 minutes until you test a bean and it's lost the raw flavor and is beginning to have a firm but yielding texture. Drain and let cool.
In a medium bowl, combine the bell peppers, leeks, orange zest, lime zest, sea salt, pepper, olive oil and tarragon. Mix gently with your hands. When cranberry beans have finished and cooled, add them to the vegetables and let marinate for at least 15 minutes.
When oven is pre-heated, pull out four separate sheets of parchment paper that are large enough to encase one fillet when the paper is folded in half. Cut each sheet into a large heart shape fold in half. Open the fold (it should now look like a valentine's heart) and brush the inside of the parchment paper with olive oil using a pastry brush. Spread the vegetable mixture lengthwise near the fold in the paper, to match the size and length of the fillet. Lay a fillet on top of the vegetables, sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon white wine for each fillet. Season with sea salt and ground pepper.
Cut four small pats of butter and place them on top of the fillet. Close the other half of the heart on top of the fish and vegetables. Begin at the top or base of the heart and roll, fold and crimp around all the edges and seal the packet as you go along.
Repeat entire filling and packaging process for each fillet. Place packages on pre-heated baking sheet and bake for 9 minutes for thin fillets. (You can bake up to 10 or 12 minutes for thicker fish.)
Remove packages from oven when done and serve immediately. It is traditional to take them to the table still in paper. Encourage the diners to make a small x in the top of the package to let the steam escape before cutting the paper completely open to reveal the fish inside.
The cranberry beans became absolutely delicious when prepared this way. They were nutty, robust and lost all mushiness but become softer with still a nice mouth feel. Think al dente pasta...it was a wonderful combination of moist, flaky fish, soft but al dente beans and cooked but crispy peppers. Interesting and unique, it definitely was a hit with my guests too.