Seafood Recipes

Halibut, Mussels, Fennel, Potato and Lovage – en Papillote with white wine and saffron – and my favorite wine glasses

October 30, 2008


en Papillote is just French for “cooking in parchment” which normally refers to baking a bunch of ingredients together in a parchment parcel. It is all very dramatic to be honest, especially when guests open up the parchment for themselves at the table. Of course, the drama is heightened further if you don’t tell anyone what is in the parcels. Looks around the table for peoples expressions – some shock, some delight. Then of course, there are those people that just forget this is straight out the oven, and open the thing with their face RIGHT over the bag. Opps, steam burn for you!

This was a rather quick, slapped together dinner on Sunday night. We had Danika’s parents over, which means I was going to be cooking seafood (it is the only time they eat fish to be honest), which as you might have gathered by this blog, is certainly OK by me. I normally try and jam a few different types of seafood down their gullets on those Sunday’s, and more often than not it ends up to be a white fish and some mussels or clams – since one of them doesn’t like salmon (WTF?).

The great thing about cooking in a parchment bag (OK, the french is over and done with..) is just how bloody easy it is. You can slap all the ingredients raw into the bag, pop it in the oven, and 15 minutes later you have a meal. Come to think about it, if you picked your ingredients carefully, you might even be able to assemble the bags before going to work, and then just bung em in the oven when you get home. Now that is a pretty fast mid-week dinner. Anyhow, I digress.

I have been thinking about different herbs recently. I use the same few quite a bit – parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, chervil, chives, tarragon. Time for a change. Lovage.

Talk about a complete fucker to source. Yep, that is right folks, I drove around farmers markets and some higher end grocery stores to find the leafy little bastard. The closest I got from one completely charming woman at the farmers market was “Oh, I was going to bring some this week, but forgot”. Well cheers.. Cheers a bunch.

So. Lovage. It is an excellent and very underrated herb. It has a celery/anise type flavor to it, and is just lovely with shellfish – especially mussels. A little does go a long way I find, especially when pared with delicate ingredients. Next year I am going to grow some. Give it a bit of sun, and it shoots off. If anyone wants some next late summer/autumn, gimmie a shout.

Did I find some? The title of this blog post is might misleading. I didn’t. Next year I am growing my own. However, I have done a dish similar to this in the past with lovage, and it was fantastic. So, use it. Trust me. It will taste good. If, like me, you weren’t able to find any, my suggestion is to use really fresh flat leaf parsley. The taste will be different but it will be very enjoyable.


For this dish I sliced some fingerling potatoes and some fennel really thinly using a mandolin. In the center of a large square of parchment paper I made a few layers of both potato and fennel. This was topped with a little of the parsley (bastards), then the halibut, and more parsley. A few mussels were scattered around the edge. Some saffron infused white wine is poured over, and the whole thing is neatly folded up. Roast it for 15 minutes in a very hot oven, and Robert’s your Fathers Brother (or Bob’s your uncle.. google it – it means “your done, sorted”).

This is just fun cooking. Nothing complicated, but just great social food. Since everything gets steamed together it is very light and delicate, but made hearty by the potato and fennel.

Happy times!

Oh.. and the wine glasses. So, like so many things with me, there is a story. I love sunflowers. I look at a sunflower and I smile. They just look happy. Big, and bright, I know if they had arms they would just be waving hello to everyone. I grew a huge one when I was a wee kid, and I am hooked on them ever since. Now for the sweet bit of the story….

Danika’s mum knows that I like sunflowers. She also knew that we needed a bunch of wine glasses. So what does the crafty little lass do? She goes and paints a bunch of really awesome sunflowers onto a ton (er, we must have 20 I reckon) of wine glasses for me. Now, I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine a happier looking wine glass, especially since the cold, dark winter months of Seattle are fast approaching.

Oh – a quick note. Remove the halibut skin before cooking. Since we aren’t crispening up the skin in this one, it is best to remove it. Steaming it just goes kinda flabby anyhow. Cut it off, or get your fishmonger to do it for you.

Oh.. and wrapping the thing up. The parchment looks very pretty on a plate, but it is much harder to keep folded together than foil is. So, what I like to do is fold it in parchment first, and then wrap that bundle in a little foil. This keeps it nice and tight in the oven. Before you serve, just remove the outer layer of foil, and let your guests open up the parchment packet.


Halibut, Mussels, Fennel, Potato and Lovage – en Papillote with white wine and saffron (serves 2)

1lb Halibut fillet – skin removed, cut into two portions

12 mussels – cleaned and debearded (look here for instructions)

1 bulb of fennel

4 small fingerling potatoes

1 glass of dry white wine

a good pinch of saffron

a small handful of lovage or parsley leaves, chopped

sea salt

parchment paper

aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 475F

Put the saffron in the white wine to let it infuse.

Trim the root end off the fennel bulb. Pull off the tougher outer layer of flesh. Trim off the top of the fennel, just above the bulb. Cut the bulb in half, vertically from the top of the fennel to the root end. Take each half and carefully remove the center core from each side. Slice this thinly on a mandolin. Slice the potato thinly on a mandolin.

Season the fish with a little sea salt.

Cut a large piece of parchment paper. In the center lay out half of the potato. On top of this lay half the fennel. Sprinkle over a little of the parsley or lovage. Put the halibut on top. Around the outside of this place half of the mussels. Sprinkle a little more lovage over the top. Pour half of the white wine carefully over the fish and mussels.

Immediately gather up two opposite sides of the parchment, and roll together above the fish. Now roll each open up up. Make sure that the folds are on top, and not on the bottom. Wrap this in a single layer of aluminum foil.

Repeat to make a second parcel.

Put this into a roasting pan. Put this over a high burner, and get hot on the stove top. When it starts to pop a little bit, bung the tray in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes.

Take the packets out of the oven, and remove the foil from both. Place them on large plates or bowls, and serve immediately.

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  • Y October 30, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    We need a better photo of those lovely sounding wine glasses! 😀

    ‘en papillote’ is probably the only extent to which my boyfriend cooks, and love how succulent the fish usually turns out, when prepared this way.

  • Anticiplate October 30, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    I LOVE cooking en papillote! I am actually doing it tonight with Sea Bass. It is such easy clean up:)

  • Fearless Kitchen October 30, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    This looks delicious. I like the idea of infusing the saffron into the wine. It makes the saffron go a little further without adding excess moisture to the dish.

  • Judy October 30, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Gotta love the simplicity of this meal! We love things in parchment, the kids think it is such a special treat when really it is just fast and easy for us!

  • Dana October 30, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    When I use parchment in this way, I pleat it together and anchor it with a paper clip to put in the oven. Once they packets are done, I just remove the paper clip (with an oven mitt) and let guests open their treat!

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js October 31, 2008 at 3:05 am

    Lovely meal in a package and I love the sunflower wine glasses. How sweet is your mother-in-law!

  • mattwright November 3, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    Thanks for all the great comments guys! My mother-in-law is really sweet, and loves my food.. so she is OK by me!

  • Hank November 3, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Ah, lovage! I cook with it often, as it has grown happy in my yard and just..will..not..die. Lovage is a total prima donna of an herb, and you are very right: A little goes a long way.

    Try it with beets sometime; it is a great combination. It’s also good with lamb or mutton.

  • We Are Never Full November 4, 2008 at 1:30 am

    such an easy and healthy way to eat – we love cooking en papillote. a little jigger of pernod on some salmon, heaven. this looks gorgeous.

  • Helen November 5, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    I have never been able to find lovage either but thank you for telling me what it tastes like. I am also loving the wine glasses, I only have one which is a sorry state of affairs really isn’t it?

  • Heather November 8, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Ha! I made pasties tonight for dinner. Steak and chanterelle pasties with brown gravy, and glazed carrots on the side.

    Lovage is a roadside weed (Tragopogon dubium) , by the way. I’ve been meaning to harvest my own, but I think spring would be better.

  • rachel June 20, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Just made this….twice……thought I would try it first before making it tomorrow night for friends. First time I failed to read the bit about putting the roasting tin over a flame first and THEN in the oven – it was all very slow. Second time I read everything properly and it worked beautifully. lets just hope I can remember everything tomorrow.

  • suzie July 31, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    i also love lovage:) is there a way to order some from a store somewhere? Discovered it from my boyfriend’s mom who is French and we sprinkle it on stir fried veggies all the time with some garlic and coriander. It’s fantastic.