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Halibut Baked in Parchment with Fennel, Asparagus, Oranges & Olives

April 14, 2008

We usually eat some kind of fish for dinner at least once a week. This means that at least once a week, the conversation in my head goes something like: “Oh, let’s have fish tonight!,” immediately followed by, “Oh rats, how am I going to cook it?” For some reason I feel particularly challenged when it comes to making a good fish dish. I don’t know why I feel that way; I can think of plenty of times I’ve made fish that I’ve liked how it turned out, but I just always feel like I have to try a new way of preparing it. Some would say that’s a good thing; others might say “Amy, why don’t you just pick your favorite way and keep doing that?” To which I would say, “yes, that is very logical.” Unfortunately that’s not always the way my mind works.

But in fact, I do repeat a particular method every so often: baking in parchment. Looking for a quick, healthy meal that’s ready in 20 minutes, with almost no cleanup save throwing out the parchment paper? This is your lucky day. It’s also the lucky day of whoever does dish-duty: I will not name names but I know that in our house, a certain someone whose name starts with B is always happy when we have fish baked in parchment (as great as he is about doing dishes, and never complains — I know he’s always pleasantly surprised when there’s no cleanup.)

Actually, I’ve been meaning to post a recipe using this method for some time now, but because I usually make it on nights when I’m too pooped to do much in the way of complicated preparation, I’m also therefore too pooped to take pictures and write anything coherent about it. But! We did have it this past weekend, and I was on top of my game enough to snap a shot or two.

All it takes is some sliced vegetables, your favorite fish fillet, and some type of vinaigrette, or even just a pat of butter. It’s a pretty foolproof method of cooking fish, too: since it steams right in the packet, nestled in the vegetables, it stays nice and moist and gets lots of flavors from whatever vegetables you include.

To make this past weekend’s fish in parchment, I thinly sliced a fennel bulb and made two beds of it on squares of parchment. I then placed two salt-and-peppered halibut* fillets on top of these fennel beds. I cut up a few stalks of asparagus into 2-inch pieces, and also cut segments of orange (“supremed” them if you want to get fancy) — both asparagus and orange slices went on top and around the halibut. When you supreme an orange, you’re left with the membranes and some pulp clinging to the membranes — I just squeezed this in my hand over the two packets to get some of the juice out. I happened to have some kalamata olives, so I finely diced a few and sprinkled those on top of the fish. Oh, and I had some chervil that I bought at the farmer’s market, so I chopped up a bit of that and sprinkled it on top — if you’ve never seen or had chervil, it looks like a cross between parsley and cilantro/coriander, and tastes very similar to tarragon, kind of a mild, sweet anise flavor. I thought it would go really well with the fennel, but you could use whatever fresh herb you had on hand. Parsley or chives would be great.

The finishing touch was a little pat of butter on each, a little more salt and pepper over the whole packet, then into the oven they went to cook for 12 minutes.

They were really delicious, really colorful and lots of great, bright flavors — and maybe the best part was that all cleanup involved was washing the cutting board and knife.

* Regarding halibut: I just saw a picture this week of what this fish looks like. Maybe I was living under a rock, but I had no idea it was basically an enormous flounder…these things can reach as big as 600 pounds!! Go ahead — do a quick Google image search for “halibut” and see if you’re not as surprised as I was. 🙂

Halibut Baked in Parchment with Fennel, Asparagus, Oranges & Olives

2 halibut fillets (or other firm white fish; cod would work well)
1 fennel bulb, white part thinly sliced, plus about 1 tbsp of chopped fennel fronds reserved for garnish
1 orange
6 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
about 6 kalamata olives, pitted and finely diced
1 tbsp chopped fresh herbs — chervil, parsley or chives
1 tbsp butter, cut in half

coarse salt and pepper
2 15-inch squares parchment


Preheat oven to 400. Butter the squares of parchment where you’ll put the fish. Season the fish generously with coarse salt and pepper.

Supreme the orange: cut off the ends of the orange so it’s flat on both sides. Use your knife to run vertically down the sides of the orange, taking off the peel and pith but leaving as much of the actual orange segment as you can. Once the peel is off, use your knife to cut down into the orange along the membranes on either side of each segment. As you cut down into the segments, they should release.

Make a bed of sliced fennel in the center of each parchment square. On top of the fennel beds, place the fish fillets. Scatter the pieces of orange and asparagus around the fish. Top the fish with the diced olives, then sprinkle the chopped herbs over the fish and vegetables. Squeeze the membranes that remained after you supremed the orange over the fish and vegetables — there should be a little juice left in it. Finally, sprinkle the whole packet with a bit more coarse salt and pepper, the place half a tablespoon of butter on top of each fish fillet.

Fold over, crimp and roll up each side of the parchment paper so that you have a package with a seam down the middle (it won’t be airtight, but the parchment paper should be gathered in enough around the fish and vegetables so they’re snug and covered. Sorry I don’t have a picture of this step; I’ll get one next time.)

Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes (for a fillet that’s about 1 inch thick.) You can prepare the packets ahead and store them in the fridge until you’re ready to bake them.

Serve by unfolding the wrapped parchment — careful, a lot of hot steam will escape. Garnish with the chopped fennel fronds.

Serves 2.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink permalink
    April 14, 2008 5:22 pm

    Amy: This looks delicious. And I laughed out loud about your halibut “discovery.” I spent part of a summer in Alaska during college and was somewhat horrified to see the huge, flat fish coming off the boats in fishing villages. Luckily, all the fresh halibut in the restaurants helped me overcome my horror very quickly. I’ll have to give this a try.

  2. April 14, 2008 7:55 pm

    I’ve been meaning to try this way of cooking fish for a while now. It looks so delicious and healthy, I don’t know why I’ve never tried it! No dishes is definitely a bonus! 🙂

  3. April 15, 2008 8:32 am

    That looks really delicious, I am very much of a fish person…and you have cooked a very lovely fish dish here! Yum!!!

  4. April 15, 2008 9:02 am

    I have never cooked fish in parchment – don’t quite know why! But, this looks delicious and it is now going to be on the menu. Thanks!

  5. April 15, 2008 12:13 pm

    That looks delicious! I’m not always sure how to cook fish, either, but my husband is and he usually makes it this way. We LOVE fennel, too, and will definitely add some next time!

  6. Anne permalink
    May 20, 2008 12:47 pm

    yum! would this recipe work cooking the fish on tin foil in a pan instead of on parchment paper? i don’t have any on hand.

  7. May 20, 2008 12:53 pm

    Hi Anne – yes, foil could definitely be used in place of the parchment. Enjoy! –Amy

  8. January 12, 2009 9:24 pm

    This is fabulous! I Googled “halibut baked in parchment,” came right to your site, and gave it a try tonight. First time I’ve ever used parchment. Loved how easy it was, and how positively gourmet it looks. And of course it tastes amazing, too. (Though I skipped the fennel; used cilantro with the oranges.)

  9. Ian permalink
    April 6, 2009 10:59 am

    Googled parchment and halibut, and got your recipe. The flavours complimented each other beautifully. Best of all, the ‘random’ unfolding of the fish & asparagus (along with the colours of the other ingredients) created a stunning visual.

    I have 1 – 2 dinner parties/week. This is definitely a ‘quick & easy’ recipe to keep.

  10. Tami permalink
    May 16, 2010 9:20 pm

    Found this when I Googled Halibut in Parchment. I was trying to copy a recipe from Restaurant Paul K in San Francisco. I love the oranges & fennel here. I used sliced, par boiled potatoes to round out the dish a bit. Also, if the kalamata olives are pureed & warmed, they make a great side to pour over the fish. Yes, don’t we all love the cleanup??
    Tami, Healdsburg, CA

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