Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Do You Like Opening Presents?

I do! And what I enjoy even more is giving presents. Now, you don’t have to wait till birthdays or Christmas to get or receive presents – the secret is in cooking al Cartoccio or en papillote.

I really enjoy having friends over for a home cooked meal or smaller affairs like tea parties with the girls swapping gossip over cakes, scones or chocolate fondue. The tricky part about entertaining, especially for dinner parties, is being able to mingle with the guests and still get the meal ready. That is a balance that I am still working on. The menu chosen and cooking technique employed will obviously affect the amount of time you have to be in the kitchen when guests arrive.

Now to the secret... One of the easiest (few ingredients, quick preparation and cooking time) meals I’ve served at several dinner parties for friends have been food (usually fish) cooked in individual pouches. Cooking in parchment paper (or foil), al Cartoccio (in Italian), or en papillote (in French), is a perfect technique for cooking delicate fish fillets. The pouches can be prepared several hours before hand, popped into oven when needed while leaving me with plenty of time to mingle with my guests. Serving each guest with the individual pouches also seems to be a sort of “party trick” that always seems to impress my friends. Maybe it’s the suspense and the enjoyment of discovering what lies inside their pouch that thrills them. Everyone likes opening presents, right?

Besides the simplicity of this cooking technique, I enjoy this method because the food steams in the pouch in its own juices and as you open the pouches, you get a mouth watering whiff of the aromatic steam. This method is also low in fat and is easy to clean up (which is a big plus for larger dinner parties). Due to clean, simple flavours that I aim for when cooking al Cartoccio, the freshest ingredients is a must (so no frozen stuff!). Although I used foil in this recipe, parchment paper appears more elegant.
Now that secret is out ;-) please try cooking al Cartoccio and let me know what you or your guests think.


Salmon al Cartoccio
(serves 2)

2 x 300g salmon fillets, skinned & de-boned
2 cloves of garlic, sliced very thinly
½ lemon
Salt flakes
Black pepper, freshly ground
Fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley, roughly chopped

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C (fan forced).

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the rind of the lemon. Slice the rind into thin strips, crush it with a rolling pin to release the fragrant oils and set aside.

Lay out 2 pieces of foil or parchment paper, large enough to be able to create a pouch for each piece of salmon.

Place salmon on the foil/paper and season it with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Scatter the thin garlic slices evenly on both sides of each fillet and place the fillet in the centre of the foil/paper. Sprinkle the chopped parsley and lemon rind on top of the fillet.

Seal each pouch (see photo) by crimping the edges together.

Place the pouches on a baking try and place it in the oven for about 12-15 minutes (medium) or 20 minutes (well done). *(see notes below)

Serve it straight away & watch the expressions on your guests’ faces!

Serve it with…..

I usually served it with steamed or grilled vegetables. Baked potatoes, wild rice or couscous would also be something easy to whip up. You could also serve some mint yogurt (stir chopped mint leaves in some plain yogurt and add a dash of lemon juice) on the side.

- *I recommend serving salmon medium cooked to get that melt-in-the-mouth texture. It’s actually a little tricky because the baking time varies depending on the thickness of the salmon fillets and also how many fillets I am cooking at a time. But I managed to get the timing right after the second try.
- 300g of salmon was quite a large serving for me, so you may want to use a smaller piece if you intend to serve starters as well as dessert.
- Salmon cutlets are also suitable and will remain quite moist even if it’s well done because of the skin and fat around the cutlets. But it tends to be less popular because of the bones.
- Parsley can be replaced by any aromatic herbs such as chives.
- Serve tomato based pasta in the same way. The trick is to use make sure that when cooking the pasta, you remove it before it reaches the point of being al dente, toss it in the sauce and seal it up in individual pouches. The pasta will not have to be in the oven for too long, just enough for the flavours to mingle. Yum!!!

Source: Inspired by Gourmet Food Suite 101, August 2006

Taster Notes by Quikong:

8 out of 10 spoons
"Can I have more, please?"


Freya and Paul said...

This is definitely a great way to cook fish as it keeps it so moist! It is also great fun to serve!

Eva said...

That's a great idea! I always wanted to try that technique since I heard about a fish in a pouch recipe from Jamie Oliver, using white wine and saffron. Thanks for reminding me - now I will hopefully make it very soon!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Well, who wouldn't be smiling from ear to ear receiving a present like this? :)
Nora, it looks fantastic!
I've been trying to manage the food making/people entertaining process too.
The oven risotto I posted a while ago is a nice alternative as well - this salmon is going to be the star of my next dinner party, you bet!

Janet said...

Hey Nora.... I do this all the time (Great minds think alike - huh?).... it also works well with chicken breasts, because they keep their moisture. I also like to put the pouches on the BBQ sometimes. This recipe looks really good.

Nora B. said...

Freya & Paul: And it's so simple to make too.

Eva: Do try it. You can put almost anything in a pouch. I would like to try to make pasta in a pouch.

Patricia: The entertaining balance can be a tricky thing, but so much fun. I just had a look at your baked risotto - what a great idea! I've made risotto using an electronic rice cooker, but I wasn't too impressed with the texture, so I should give the oven technique a go. Thanks!

Janet: I don't think that I can teach a great chef like you any new tricks. :-)

Cassie said...

What a great blog! I came across your blog just in time because I was looking for something interesting and quick to make for tonight. I bought mixed seafood and making the usual pasta marinara would have been too predictable, so I will try this method for tonight when I have friends over for dinner. Thanks!!!

Great Big Veg Challenge said...

It is all about the surprise and anticipation isnt it - when you each open your delicious parcel.
Great idea. I will try it with my children. We are in the middle of the GreatBigVegChallenge and will try something out along this theme. Thank you for the inspiration.

Rose said...

I agree with you. tThis is the best way to cook a fish while preserving its vitamines, the texture and the seasoning of it. My kind of present.

Nora B. said...

Cassie - Glad that I could help. I hope that your friends will enjoy the "presents"!

Charlotte - Thanks for dropping by. I just had a look at your blog - it's full of wonderful stories and recipes. I love miso soup & prawns and have always wanted to try cooking daikon, so I'll have to give your miso soup with daikon and prawns a try.

Rose - Yes, and it's such an easy yet versatile technique.