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Salmon and sorrel go as hand-in-hand in French cuisine, as much as Napoleon and his white horse, or Marie Antoinette and La Guillotine do in French history. A somewhat obscure herb to many, sorrel is leafy, grassy, fresh, and slightly astringent. It is that insistent acerbic tang that makes it such match for salmon—countering the butteriness of the fish, holding its pungency at bay.
Traditionally, salmon with sorrel sauce, saumon à l’oseille, is a seared fillet of salmon served with a creamy sauce made from cream and sorrel, among other things, heated and pulverized into purée. I have always found that French culture has a wonderful capacity for supporting two opposing but equal truths at once in the same vessel: girls, for example, may be jolie-laide, or pretty-ugly. Similarly, so many recipes in French cuisine, like saumon à l’oseille, are rustic-refined—a dichotomous combination of simple heartiness, elegant but unfussy presentation, and uncomplicated but pert flavors.
This rendition is the modern working girl’s version of saumon à l’oseille, created for my newly married friend Tali. She works all day, sometimes into the night, and is ambitious but not self-assured in the kitchen. And she is starving for easy, fast, healthy recipes for her and her new husband. These little packets, fish cooked “en papillote,” cradle the vegetable, the fish, and the sauce, all in one disposable sack from prep to trashcan. Just place the asparagus on a piece of parchment or foil, top with the fish, the sorrel, and some wine and crème fraîche, seal the packet, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
The parcels come out puffed and proud, steaming and triumphant. Eat the fish out of the packet, perhaps with some five-minute fluffed couscous or plain boiled new potatoes or even crusty, warm baguette. Clean-up is virtually non-existent, the meal takes basically no work, and yet the combination of flavors is sophisticated, and innovative while being traditional. Like a new marriage…
- 5 ounces boneless, skinless salmon fillet
- 10 stalks thin asparagus, woody ends trimmed off
- 2 to 4 fresh sorrel leaves
- 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
- 1 tablespoon dry white wine
- lemon zest to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Fold a large piece of parchment in half, and cut around to create a pouch shape.
- Lay the asparagus on one side of the parchment. Place the salmon on top, season with salt and pepper, and then place the sorrel leaves on top.
- Top with crème fraîche, white wine, and lemon zest.
- Seal by folding the edge in pleats, one overlapping the last. The trick is to fold it in any way that does not allow steam to escape, using a couple staples if necessary.
- Park the papillote packages on a baking sheet, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
There are several ways to seal the parchment or foil when cooking en papillote. The general rule of thumb is to do whatever you want just so long as the packet is very tightly sealed, allowing no steam to escape. Foil, or foil lined with parchment, facilitates the process. But if using just parchment, admittedly more aesthetically pleasing, work your way around, pleating the edges. I have been known to staple the final pleat for security, both technical and emotional. Here are the full Serious Eats instructions for traditional papillote cooking.
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