How To Cook Fish For A Crowd

Our friend Emily (who also happens to be Craig’s awesome manager; she’s in the apron on the right) had us over for dinner the other night and she pulled off something I would never be brave enough to attempt at a dinner party: she cooked us fish.

Fish is so tricky and temperamental, I’m nervous just to cook it for myself, let alone a crowd of people. I’ve seared fish in a pan, I’ve broiled fish in the oven. These techniques work fine for one or two, but for four? Five? Six? What do you do? Emily had the perfect solution. And it was such a smart solution, I plan to steal this idea for my own fish dinner parties in the future. Not only that: the results were so good I may use her technique for cooking fish just for Craig and myself. And that technique is…

…cooking the fish “en papillote.”

What’s papillote? It’s a parcel or pouch that you make with parchment paper that allows the fish to steam in its own juices (along with wine and a splash of olive oil).

Emily let us all personalize our own fish (which happened to be tilapia, on this night, but you could use any thin white fish, or even halibut–which you’d have to cook longer). So here’s the fish:


And here are all the fixings:


Emily started out but laying out a large piece of parchment and lining it with a few slices of lemon:


Then she put her fish on top:


You season that with some salt and pepper and then pile on your fixings. In Emily’s case, that included parsley, cilantro, dill, chives, jalapenos and cherry tomatoes:


Clearly Emily is proud of her work (as her friends and neighbors look on):


But she’s not done! On goes a drizzle of good white wine (the Sauvignon Blanc we were drinking, in fact):


(Note: I did once attempt fish en papillote years ago–like 2004–and positively drenched the fish in white wine, which disintegrated the packet and caused the whole thing to break apart. Don’t do that!)

Then a drizzle of olive oil:


After which, it’s time to seal your packet. Emily will show you how in this video:

Pretty easy, right?

Then everyone else takes a turn and you have a tray lined with sealed packets:


Into a 400 degree oven they go, and 15 to 20 minutes later…they’re done! (You can check for doneness by feeling around or just opening yours up and looking. If it’s cooked, the fish will be opaque.)

Just before it’s time to eat, dress your salad:


Then pass out the papillotes:


Unwrapping your own creation is like unwrapping a gift that you made for yourself. I mean look at this:


The most incredible part is how good it tastes. Never mind how easy it was to make, how simple it was to cook; those flavors all seep into the fish and the results are truly spectacular. The fish is moist and herbaceous and acidic from the wine and lemon juice. In fact, I could see this being great with rice, to catch those extra juices.

So thank you, Emily, for a wonderful dinner and for teaching me how to cook fish for a crowd.

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