Lent in the Bayou State cracks me up.
Here in heavily Catholic south Louisiana, there’s a rush to self-sacrifice every Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday. Lots of people give stuff up — from chocolate to gossip to alcohol — to signify their piety and, for sure, to make up for the sins of Carnival. And the other big part of the Lenten experience is the Friday meat fast, when burgers and pepperoni pizza are out, and fish of all sorts is the seasonal rockstar.
What this means for all of us, Catholic or not, is that Friday restaurant menus are dripping in delicious, creative and indulgent seafood dishes using local crawfish, crab, seafood and fin fish.
What sacrifice. Poor us.
But despite our frequent, year-round consumption of seafood in Louisiana, there’s still a lot of phobia out there when it comes to cooking fish at home. I hear people complain all the time about their inexperience with fish preparation. How do I know it’s ready? It’s so boring, unless it’s fried! How can I make it healthy and great tasting? It’s really expensive per pound, and I don’t want to mess it up.
The truth is, cooking fish is not hard, especially when you do it in parchment paper. Prepared en papillote the fish is steamed in a cute little oven proof paper package, keeping it super tender throughout. You can add all sorts of things to the bundle to influence flavor, including fresh herbs, pesto, infused oils, chopped fennel, leeks, slices of lemon or julienned vegetables. Serve it with a side of roasted potatoes, Israeli couscous, pasta with garlic and olive oil or a simple green salad. It’s one of my favorite ways to prepare fish, and it comes out great every time. It’s also a great recipe to break out on weeknights because it’s ready in about 25 minutes.
Fillet of salmon en papillote with pesto and fresh lemon slices
2 6-oz. salmon fillets
Two large squares of parchment paper, enough to hold the fish and herbs in a folded bundle
4-6 tablespoons pesto
4-6 slices fresh lemon
Fresh parsley or basil for garnish
Heat oven to 350 degrees. On each square of parchment paper, place a fillet on the right side, leaving about two inches for folding. Top each fillet with about 2 tablespoons pesto, or enough to cover the entire surface. Add 2-3 lemon slices. Fold over the left side of the paper and tuck all edges so that the bundle is seared. Place both fillets on a cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes. To serve, cut into the package with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Be careful. It will be hot. Top with fresh herbs.