In classical cookery, a paper parcel is crafted from baking paper, folded into something resembling a Cornish pasty and then sealed by pinching and pleating and swearing. Aluminium foil is far easier to work with, although it doesn’t have the same ‘vintage’ feel about it.
I prefer to gather my parcels into purses and tie them with string, which are then presented to the customer to untie at the table, creating a little furore of excitement and releasing aromas right before their very noses.
I often have something on the menu “en pap”, it’s very me. I like to compartmentalize, it’s not a big deal. They are always well received, sometimes I have small versions on as a starter, like the recent ‘Seashore Goody Bag’ or sometimes I have meaty versions with chicken and asparagus for example. There are endless permutations, feel free to make substitutions as and where you like.
The concept behind cooking ingredients together in this manner requires them to have an equal cooking time, 10 – 15 minutes for a piece of fish, 20 minutes for chicken, so choose ingredients to pair with them that will cook in roughly the same time. The contents of each parcel cook within their own steam, which can be helped along with a splash of wine or cream, which then becomes its own sauce.
It goes without saying you will need to prepare these in advance (you could skip the flavoured butter fandango altogether and just use a large knob of salted butter instead) and have you also noticed there’s no washing up? You’re welcome.
(Instructions for 1 main course size)
A square of baking paper/baking parchment (catering size or extra-large) measuring 40 x 40cm
150g piece monk fish tail
Small handful of fresh wild mushrooms
A small handful of samphire
For the lemon and caper butter
(enough for 8 – 10 parcels)
1 tablespoon of Maldon sea salt
Finely chopped zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons of rinsed and drained capers
Freshly ground black pepper
For the flavoured butter, slice 200g into thin pieces and leave in a bowl to soften at room temperature for an hour.
Zest the lemon by whichever method you prefer and chop it finely. Halve and juice it.
Add the sea salt, black pepper and lemon zest to the butter along with one tablespoon of its juice, and use the back of a dessert spoon to work the ingredients together. Add the capers and fold them in.
Spoon the whole lot onto the middle of a piece of cling film, loosely fold the half nearest you over the butter and use it to smooth the butter length ways into roughly a log. Roll the log away from you up the remaining length of cling film, then pinch the ends tightly next to the ends of the butter and roll it again along the work surface to form an ever-tightening log. Fold the loose ends under and refrigerate.
Tear off a square of baking parchment. Cut a length of string roughly 30cm long.
Place the mushrooms in the centre of the paper, season the fish with black pepper and balance on top (no salt, on account of the samphire).
Top the fish with a slice of the flavoured lemon butter, or just a slice of salted butter if you didn’t bother making the flavoured version. Top that with the samphire.
Add a capful of white wine (if your bottle has a cork, use a teaspoon) now if you plan to cook them within the next couple of hours, otherwise re-open the bags just before they go in the oven and add the wine then.
Gather two opposing corners of the paper and bring upwards to meet above the centre, bring the other two to meet them. Grasp the paper bag by the neck and tie tightly with the string in a bow (not a knot).
Bake the bags in a pre-heated oven at 200⁰C for 15 mins. I serve these with an individual side portion of potato Dauphinoise.