The Original En Papillote

Text and photos by Mark Bittman

When you’re buying fish in a strange place, it helps if both you and the person you’re buying it from know all about marine taxonomy, including the Latin for everything. Since this is almost never the case, you can run into the kind of situation I was in last week in Dominica, where I was told what was pretty clearly some kind of jack was a salmon. When I said, “That’s not what they call a salmon in the rest of the world,” another fishmonger intervened and said it was in fact a blue runner. When I later looked online at pictures of blue runners, I found that indeed they are a kind of jack, but not the jack that I’d bought and had filleted.

As they say: Whatever. It’s a fish. With an unreliable grill and novel fuel—a kind of wood that burned slowly but not especially hot—I thought the fish needed some protection, some kind of en papillote situation, or it was going to stick to the grill grates like it had been superglued. I thought about this while slow-grilling some beautiful garlic, green onions, and “seasoning chiles,” which look like habaneros but are mild enough to eat, almost like padróns. I had no foil, so that was out. I had no parchment paper, which is what we think of as the “real” en papillote wrapper, though I wasn’t certain that would work anyway.

Kathleen said: “How about a banana leaf?”

Duh. We were, after all, cooking in the middle of a banana plantation. And banana leaves were something I have gone out of my way to buy, frozen, probably 15 times in my life, for exactly this purpose. So while Kathleen cut us the smallest banana leaf she could find – which is pretty big – I smeared garlic and chopped chiles all over the fish, along with a bit of some mysterious bay-like leaf whose name I’ve forgotten (and will probably never see again). We cut the leaves to some kind of appropriate size, cut the fish into four pieces and wrapped it, and ceremoniously dumped it on the grill.

As I said, the fire was not raging, so it took a while for the fish to cook through. (How do you know, when it’s wrapped? When a thin-bladed knife or skewer meets little resistance when you poke it in there. Easy.)

The leaf protected that fish beautifully, held in all its moisture, and added some flavor of its own. The fish, whatever it was, was delicious. The meal was exciting. By all means, try this at home, even if you have to use foil.

Posted in Grilling, Seafood, Travel

One Comment

  1. Bharath said...

    Hello Mark I appreciate your hard work first! coming to Recipe it’s the best because you have used all natural cooking ways to prepare it. We can see a lot of these cooking styles in India. But you made it really wonderful. 🙂

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