Great things come in small packages, especially when you cook en papillote.
Halibut en Papillote or Halibut al Cartoccio. Both a French and an Italian method of cooking fish in an enclosed parchment paper pouch along with veggies, herbs, wine and or butter.
The first time you have this dish, it feels like an unexpected gift, for you get your own hot little paper – packet of goodness. Perfectly cooked halibut with clams and shrimp package which, when opened is an AMAZING aroma bomb! I remember the first time I’d ever tried this dish we were staying at the Four Seasons in Maui, and ate at Ferraro’s which was right an oceanfront restaurant at the hotel. We enjoyed a cocktail while we waited for our dinner and watch the sunset, when it arrived it was a puffed up package of parchment. The server cut open the package and the fragrant aromas that wafted out of it left me salivating.
This is pretty, fun and surprisingly easy way to cook fish, which may sound fancy, but is dummy proof. So if you’re one of those people that has turned fish into fish jerky unintentionally, or been afraid to attempt it then baking en papillote (in parcel) is your answer from the food gods. It’s also perfect for entertaining because you can prep most of it ahead and pop it in the oven when you guests are having appetizers. You could also prepare it on your grill on indirect heat.
This version combines delicate halibut with leeks, smoky-salty bacon, thyme, cherry tomatoes and anise flavor from the Pernod. You can use swap the veg or place potatoes, fregola, or Israeli you cous-cous in the bottom to soak up the juices. We enjoyed it with delicious crusty bread to mop up the juices.
- 4 (4-ounce) halibut fillets or any white fish (🇿🇦 kingklip or hake) (450 g)
- 8 clams, smallest variety available (🇿🇦 cockles or white mussels) (see note)
- 6-8 shrimp,(about 1 to 2 per person) peeled and deveined
- 1 large leek, sliced into ¼ inch (about a cup) white and light green parts (see note)
- 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 4 pinches saffron
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel (5 ml)
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (250 ml)
- 3 tablespoons thick cut bacon, cut into ¼ inch batons
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (30 ml)
- ½ cup white wine (125 ml)
- 4 tablespoons Pernod liquor (60 ml)
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste (15 ml)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (45 ml)
- olive oil
- Fold 4 (9 by 13-inch) pieces of parchment paper in half and starting at the top of the fold, cut a large half circle from the paper. When the fold is opened it should be a full circle. It is okay if it is not a perfect circle-a heart shape is even better. Set aside.
- Place the pancetta in a cold sauté pan over medium heat and cook the bacon, until golden brown allowing the fat to render. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel.
- Combine the white wine, Pernod and tomato paste and mix well until the paste is dissolved. Preheat the oven to 500℉ (260 ℃)
- Open the parchment paper circles (or hearts) and lightly brush the paper with olive oil leaving a 1-inch( 2.5 cm) border around the edge.
- Season the fish with salt, pepper and the ground fennel. Divide the leeks between the 4 papers, placing them in the center just above the crease. Place the fish on top of the leeks, and divide the tomatoes, garlic and thyme. Top with the pancetta, clams, shrimp and a pinch of saffron on each portion of fish and finish with the butter divided evenly.
- Fold parchment over fish, making small overlapping folds along edges and sealing with a paper clip. Before the package is completely sealed, carefully add Pernod-wine mixture into each and then seal. The closure needs to be very secure so the steam will not escape during the cooking process. Place on rimmed baking sheets. Roast until parchment puffs, 8 to 9 minutes. Ensure that the clams have opened, discard any that have not open. (Some may not open completely but you can ply it open) Carefully cut packets, avoiding escaping steam, and serve.
You want to use the smallest clams available you want to ensure that they ope in the short cooking time. Leeks always retains a lot of dirt so once you’ve cut them, you are going to immediately rinse them 3 times swirling them with your hand constantly.