Make Salmon Your French Sweetheart this Summer / by Anne

salmonenpapilloteI love it when I “invent” an easy and delicious way to prepare something, only to learn that it has an elegant name, especially a French one.  It was a double whammy when I unwittingly created Salmon en Papillote with Mangos and Orange Suprêmes.   I was not aware of my utter elegance when I first made it.  At first it was really Salmon en Reynold’s Wrap with Some Onions and Impulse-Purchase Fruit I Needed to Use Up Before it Spoiled.  Far from being high-minded about the process, I was just fooling around and hoping for the best.  I was thrilled with and surprised by what came out of the oven. 

How can something taste both vibrant and delicate?  The marriage of the bright and sweet fruit steams and permeates the salmon to create a tender, delicate flavor in the fish.  Onions also add deeper, but not cloying, sweetness.   Simple, perfect.   I first ate my dish still standing in my kitchen on a Thursday night, astounded by the alchemical magic of heat and steam.

This dish gained further oh-la-la-factor when I learned that aluminum reacts to acidic foods, so I later tried a method sans foil. At the Century Ballroom*, they used to serve entrees sealed in adorable, individual parchment packages.  Serving food en papillote (which surprisingly means “in parchment” in French) allows for a delicate steaming that seals the flavor and juices in a gentle, butter-brushed embrace.  Your dinner arrives like a tidy present just for you.  

Not remembering the folding technique for keeping the parchment closed, and also running short on parchment, I tried folding a rectangle in half, then enclosing the fish and fruit in the fold, envelope style.  I folded the ends over several times.  They would surely come undone once the steam started to form in the envelope, though.  What would you do?  Well, you might think, parchment IS paper, after all.  Why NOT use staples?  I suppose there’s no reason not to, if you don’t mind a whole bunch of butter on your stapler.  I have a whole bunch of butter on my stapler.  That was fun, though.

For those of us without a kitchen stapler, I’ll share the ideal (and perhaps classique?) parchment shape for folding and serving food en papillote. You fold your rectangle in half, cut out a big, second-grade valentine, and place the portion inside the fold.  Then you fold around the edge of the half-heart in a series of overlapping folds.   This culinary origami keeps everything in place and also adds an undeniable air of 1st period homeroom romance.

With its simplicity and its efficient, sweet design, I thought this dish to now be invincible and bloggable.  I was wrong.   It's important to tell you that a flavor roadblock arose one time when I used Sockeye salmon, with surprisingly miserable results.  Sockeye is the type of fish chosen to use in canned salmon, because it is favored for its bright color and strong flavor.  It turns out that Sockeye’s intense and savory flavor, while fun on the grill and delicious in a salmon burger, does not pair well with this fruit.  After double checking with the friendly fish purveyors at Fresh Fish Co., I recommend using King (also called Chinook) or Coho salmon, because they are milder in flavor.  Take it from me: a mild-flavored fish works best with this treatment. If you only have Sockeye, head to the grill and make a separate fruit salad.  If you can’t get salmon at all, try it with the delicate and lovely sole.  I’m sure going to. 

After eating this dish many times I finally decided that it needed just a touch of tart to offset the near-perfect sweet and savory.  With that sweetheart-themed shape, how could you resist little dots of red?  I added dried cranberries to lightly brighten both the flavor and the color. 

And there you have it.  A Thursday night fridge-cleanout slowly unfolds into a simple yet refined and elegant way to say Je t’aime to your fish.  Bon Appétit.

*By the way, The Century Ballroom now has a great restaurant called The Tin Table, a delectable way to start your evening—whether you are dancing or not.  They don't have the dinners en papillote any longer, but they have other inspirational dishes on their menu.  It has some French words, too.


Salmon en Papillote with Mangos and Orange Suprêmes

  • 1 lb salmon – preferably a piece that is consistent in thickness throughout*
  • 1/3 onion, cut into rings
  • 2 oranges, cut into suprêmes, then squeezed for juice
  • 1 mango, cut into cubes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 2 – 3 T minced chives (and chive blossoms, if you have them), for garnish

*Cooking time will vary based on the thickness of your piece(s) of fish, which is why you want consistent thickness. 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut salmon into four pieces. 
  3. Cut 4 large pieces of parchment, around 16 inches long each.
  4. Fold each piece of parchment in half and cut out half a heart, as if you were making a valentine.  It will help if your valentine is very rounded, like in this picture.salmonhearts
  5. Place salmon filets onto the hearts, at the edge of the fold in the center of the shape.   Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover each filet with ¼ each of the onion rings, the mango cubes, and the orange suprêmes, along with some of the orange juice.  Top with dried cranberries.
  7. With a pastry brush, spread melted butter all along the edge of the heart on both sides, then fold the heart over to close.  Now you will seal this packet closed.  Starting at the top of the heart at the crease,  make a 1/2-inch-deep fold in the open edge of the parchment.  Because the shape is curved, you can hold this fold down and make another fold overlapping the first one, which holds it in place.  Do this again and again around the round part of the heart.  Once you get to the bottom tip and run out of curve, make one last good fold to hold all the previous ones in place, then twist the bottom firmly several times to secure it.salmonopenclose
  8. Brush the top of each sealed packet with more melted butter.
  9. Place packets in a shallow baking dish and bake for 12 minutes for an inch-thick fillet, which is the fatter part of many salmon you’ll find at the market—the medium-large ones, not the really big ones.  For the skinnier part of a salmon steak, cooking time will be more like 8 minutes or even less.  Watch for the puffing up of the packet, which will indicate sufficient steam has been produced in the packet to cook the salmon well.
  10. Remove packets from oven and let them rest for a few moments to finish steaming before serving.
  11. To serve, place each packet on a plate and cut a cross in the top of the packet, right in the center, then fold back each of the four flaps to create a square hole that reveals the salmon and its toppings underneath. If the salmon has shifted over, just gently tilt the plate so that the fish slides over and becomes centered.  Sprinkle with chives and chives blossoms, if you have them.  Serve immediately upon opening.

 Makes 4 servings

Salmon En Papillote With Mangos and Orange Suprêmes on Foodista