When I was a child, my mother would announce on Ash Wednesday, “Since it’s Lent, I would like all you kids to give up something for the next 40 days that would be meaningful to you, something that would be a sacrifice.” I wanted to give up going to church on Sundays, but my mother suggested that I give up arguing with my sisters. Hmmm…. There was also the announcement that we would be limiting our meat intake, especially on Fridays when she would serve fish. My sisters were carnivores and would always grumble about the lack of animal protein to be had. This was fine by me, however, since I decided when I was 9 years old that I was a vegetarian who liked fish.
I’m not a vegetarian anymore, although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not eating meat. Your body will tell you if your not getting enough of something. But every time Lent rolls around I think about fish on Fridays. I make fish for my family once a week and I am thankful they like it. Halibut, especially, is a favorite since it is so mild and works with many different flavors. Cooking fish in parchment, or en papillote, is one of my favorite ways to prepare it. Not only is it easy, the parchment keeps all the moisture inside the little packet to basically steam the fish and make it really moist. Plus, it is a really gentle way to cook fish and protect the wonderful Omega-3 fats that we all need.
I love the combination of cilantro, ginger and green onions, but the recipe works just as well with mint or a mix of cilantro and mint. Even though I can easily customize each parchment packet, I make everybody’s the same. If Mr. Picky would like to scrape off his herb mixture, he can (and he does.) But there are unlimited ways to flavor your fish if you tire of this recipe. A drop of olive oil or butter, a squeeze of lemon, lime or white wine, a few fresh herbs, salt and pepper and that’s a delicious and light dish. You can even add some quick-cooking vegetables to the packet, such as thinly sliced zucchini, carrots, spinach leaves, or leeks and you have a one-packet meal. If it’s a long work day for me or if we have a Little League game just before dinner, I’ll assemble my packets in the morning and refrigerate them. Take them out before you preheat the oven and bake them for an extra minute since they’ll still be a bit cold. It’s like someone gave you a gift, in more ways than one.
halibut baked in parchment with cilantro and ginger
¼ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped or fresh mint, or a combination
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
¼ cup green onion, chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
6 4-6 ounce* portions of wild Alaskan halibut, defrosted, if frozen
6 14-inch squares of unbleached parchment paper
½ teaspoon sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place each piece of halibut in the center of a sheet of parchment. Season lightly with sea salt.
3. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients until well blended. Place a heaping spoonful of the mixture atop each piece of halibut and spread evenly.
4. Bring 2 opposites sides of the parchment together and fold. Continue to fold all the way down until you reach the fish. Twist both ends of the parchment so that it looks like a hard candy wrapper. Place each packet on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
5. Transfer each packet to a plate and use caution when opening – the steam will be very hot!
Notes: You can also add thinly sliced vegetables to the packets and cook with the fish.
*If you are using pieces of fish that are bigger than the recipe specifies, you may need to make a little more of the herb mixture. I would also consider baking the fish for an extra minute.