Steaming en papillote infuses asparagus flavor

It’s been just over a week since I despaired over weather so fine and a garden still so fallow.

But true to form and in keeping with the season, asparagus pops up literally overnight. It’s tentative at first, sending up just a few stalks at a time. So we collect spears for several days before there’s enough to constitute a proper side dish. If I get impatient, though, I claim the slim harvest all for myself, usually scattering over a plate of pasta on nights when I’m dining solo.

The asparagus season is just long enough that we can eat our fill before summer sets in, and the garden really takes off. In the meantime, I’ll start by rationing those first asparagus, using them to their utmost advantage in recipes like this one, courtesy of the Seattle Times. Steaming the asparagus in parchment paper perfumes all the other ingredients like this springtime delicacy.

If you’re short on asparagus, there’s no reason why you couldn’t combine it with the potatoes that are suggested as an either/or ingredient. But if using potatoes, plan far enough ahead (a couple hours) to parboil it, so it cooks at roughly the same rate as the asparagus. Wash a medium potato thoroughly and bring enough water to amply cover it to a boil. Add the potato carefully, reduce heat to medium-high and cook for 20 minutes, less if incorporating it without asparagus in the following recipe. Rinse the potato with cold water and put, uncovered, in a bowl in the fridge to cool before slicing.

Tribune News Service photo

Fish en Papillote With Asparagus or Potatoes and Parsley Sauce

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/2 bunch parsley (about a cup loosely packed, not including larger stems)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch (about 12 stalks) asparagus, rinsed and butt-ends snapped off

— or —

1 medium parboiled potato, sliced into very thin rounds (a mandoline helps a lot)

Parchment paper (find it with the aluminum foil and plastic wrap)

2 pats of butter

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 fish fillets, 4 to 6 ounces each, of rockfish, cod, flounder or any white fish

4 thin lemon slices

2 tablespoons white wine

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Make parsley sauce by mincing the garlic and finely chopping the parsley; add to a small bowl. Add the 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt; stir to combine. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly while stirring thoroughly with a fork. (You also could use a food processor or immersion blender.)

Tear off 2 large squares of parchment paper, and crease them diagonally. On 1 diagonal half of each square, near crease, arrange a slightly-larger-than-fish-fillet-shaped raft of asparagus or a slightly-larger-than-fish-fillet-shaped layer of potatoes barely overlapping.

Put 1 pat of butter atop potatoes or asparagus; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the fish fillets atop potato or asparagus layer; sprinkle with salt and pepper, then top each fillet with 2 lemon slices and half of parsley sauce. Pour 1 tablespoon of the wine over each fillet.

For each packet, fold parchment paper over diagonally, then fold and crimp open sides tightly around fish and vegetable arrangement to create a half-moon-ish shape. You want to create a good seal; if any spots seem like they might let the steam out, use (uncoated!) paper clips to secure them.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes for potatoes, 15 minutes for asparagus.

Slide each packet onto a large plate, then slit top with a sharp knife and serve immediately, letting your guest tear theirs open more themselves.

Makes 2 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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