Trout Fillets En Papillote

I hope you didn't miss Wednesday's On The Side column featuring Galton Blackiston. The daft customer experience involving the guest whose filo pastry in her en papillote dish was tough is a classic. Confused? Read on.

En papillote simply means cooked in a paper bag. (Incidentally, that ridiculous little paper frill you used to see popped on the ends of the bones in a rack of lamb is also called a papillote, just to confuse you.) Oh, and to confound you further, no paper bags were used in my version of today's recipe.

Let's take a step backwards. For centuries banana leaves have been used out east and in Africa as a covering for food as it cooks. The idea of using paper because you didn't have a conveniently handy banana tree came in only after manufacturers had learned how to make greaseproof paper, which didn't turn to pulp. The first parchment paper, as it was then known, was created by some very clever French scientists in 1847. Within a decade or so it had caught on with chefs as a cooking tool. The classicists still use it, partly for tradition but also, I suspect, because it is much cheaper than aluminium foil. (Also a French invention, 1903 in case you were wondering.) I find the latter easier to work with.

The idea is to form a sealed container so that the contents steam. I read that this was not an uncommon way to cook veal chops; however, as the recipes which I have seen involve sauteing them first, who could be bothered? And using paper is fiddly unless you are an origami expert. I, like 99.9% of the people who employ this technique, use foil. Except of course for the pros, who all have these multi purpose ovens which can steam your fish, which is what we are trying to do at home.

When I started off my cooking career, fish made me nervous, because it was so instant. Laughable, isn't it? A recipe that takes less than half an hour for preparation and cooking combined, with hardly any washing up. Please don't tell me you don't have time to cook from scratch. I used trout, but you can you can use salmon, cod, haddock or whatever. For the herb flavouring, I used thyme, but you could try dill, fennel fronds, or even boring old parsley.

A whole trout is good done this way too. Use a small fish about 350g, cleaned, but with the head and tail still on. Make sure the cavity is well seasoned and put the lemon and herbs inside. Cooking time will be about 25 minutes.

Trout Fillets En Papillote (serves 2)


Foil or paper to wrap your fish - see above.

2 trout fillets; 1 lemon cut into 6 rounds; a few sprigs of thyme; a little butter; about 4tbsp dry vermouth; salt and pepper.


Preheat your oven to 190˚C/Mark 5. To prepare the parcels, cut two large pieces of foil and place on a baking tray. Not only does it have to be large enough to cover the fish, you want there to be a gap between the top of the fish and the top of the parcel to allow room for steam to form. Grease the surface of the foil and place the fish in, skin side down. Season it well with salt and pepper. Place three rings of lemon on top, a couple of sprigs of thyme and two or three little knobs of butter. Make life easier for yourself by wrapping most of the parcel before adding the vermouth. Fold the foil together at the top, creating a little tent. Seal one end, then pour the vermouth in at the other side before sealing that too. No steam or liquid should be able to escape.

Bake for about 15 minutes and serve immediately. Simples! (And if using paper, and serving really stupid people, tell them not to eat it.)



  1. Robert Corrigan on 2nd April 2021 at 5:55 pm

    Most enjoyable as ever. Yes I still use paper most of the time.
    The fancy steaming ovens are no match for the enclosed fish. The paper or aluminum foil keeps in the flavour much better.
    Just a wee point. Banana leaves do not grow on trees. 🍷🍷

    • Tom Johnston on 2nd April 2021 at 6:07 pm

      I congratulate you, sir. You are absolutely correct; however, I have to assume that my readers are neither as well informed as you, nor as pedantic as us.

    • Janet Hood on 2nd April 2021 at 6:28 pm

      My Dad used to fish and we would eat at Loch side occasionally – make small fire burn to embers, my job to get wood, soak a whole newspaper in water, gut fish season leave for birds , wrap fish in paper toss on embers leave till paper starts to char – as you peel off paper skin comes off fish – tuck in jx

  2. Liz on 2nd April 2021 at 6:01 pm

    Have you compared paper parcels and foil? I’d have thought the foil would be hotter and cook faster? I’ve done chicken in paper. Found it delicious and not a bother to parcel up.
    Sounds great though. As does NQ delivery.

    • Tom Johnston on 2nd April 2021 at 6:10 pm

      I’ve never done the speed test, though it’s bound to be different. The foil is easier if you’re pouring liquid in, as with the vermouth in this recipe.

      • Carol on 3rd April 2021 at 12:39 am

        Made salmon in pastry tonight. Does that count as en papillote? Think I prefer pastry to paper. Or foil.

        • Tom Johnston on 3rd April 2021 at 9:38 am

          No – much tastier, and more room for error.

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