Friday, April 6, 2012

Thai Fish en Papilotte with Lime & Garlic Butter Sauce

I used to live in Paris, which is where I first tasted a version of this dish.  I thought it sounded so haute-cuisine, before I realised it literally translated as ‘in parchment’. But when I tasted it I realised that this simplicity is exactly what makes it so delicious. The parchment paper is folded into a small parcel for a fillet of fish and a few key ingredients. It looks like this:

This is how the fish should look when it's wrapped up

The fish steams in its own juices and absorbs the flavours around it. You are left with melt-in-the-mouth tenderness. And it’s a super healthy way to cook.

The Parisian version I had was cooked with garlic, lemon and fresh herbs. Here I have Thai’d the recipe up. The first time I made the dish, I didn’t make the sauce on the side. My husband and long-suffering taster said it was delicious but a bit dry as a dish and needed something to bring it all together. I glared at his insolence but I knew he was right – the juice produced during cooking was tasty but there wasn’t much of it. So it was back to the drawing board to find the right sauce to pair with it.

I love this sauce and think it goes perfectly because it doesn’t overpower the delicate flavour of the fish. Though if you do go down the butter route, the dish does cease to be especially healthy…but I never claimed to be a health food blogger.

The fish right after it came out of the oven

Time: 40 mins
Rating: Easy, but requires patience with knife work
Serves: 2


For the fish:
2 chunky fillets of white fish like sea bass or tilapia
Small knob ginger, peeled
1 medium-sized red chilli
1 shallot
1 lime
8 kaffir lime leaves
2 sticks lemongrass
3 tbsp fish sauce
½ tsp sugar

For the sauce:
1 shallot,
Zest of 1 lime, juice of 2 limes
2 cloves garlic
100ml white wine
30g butter
Pinch of salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. If you are serving rice, put this on first – you can keep it warm while the other components cook.
  3. Prepare the ingredients for the fish. Cut the shallot in half width-ways and finely slice. Finely slice the chilli, ginger and lime zest into very thin matchsticks – take time to do this carefully to get thin, delicate pieces.
  4. Cut the lemongrass stalks in half lengthways.
  5. Mix together the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar
  6. Cut two pieces of parchment paper about 30cm long and lay them out flat. Place four kaffir lime leaves in a row in the centre of each piece and lay a fish fillet on top.
  7. Put the two halves of a lemongrass stalk either side of the fillet and sprinkle the slivers of shallot, ginger, lime zest and chilli across the top of the fillet evenly. Gently spoon over the fish sauce and sugar mixture.
  8. Gather up the edges of the parchment paper over the fish. Twist it at both ends and fold over the edges of the paper in the middle, leaving space between the fish and paper to allow space for steam. Seal the edges well to trap the steam.  It should look like the picture above.
  9. Bake in the oven for 10-13 mins depending on the size of your fillet.
  10. While the fish is cooking make your sauce. Coarsely chop the shallot, garlic and lime zest. Heat a little olive oil in a small saucepan, gently fry the shallot, garlic and lime zest and fry over a medium heat until softened but not coloured (about a minute).
  11. Add the white wine and lime juice, bring to the boil and cook for 2 minutes
  12. Strain through a sieve and return the strained sauce to pan, discarding the rest.
  13. Re-heat over a low heat and add the butter a few pieces at a time. Whisk continuously until all the butter has melted and incorporated into the sauce. Season with a pinch of salt.
  14. Once the butter has all been incorporated remove from the heat and cover - don’t let the sauce overheat as this will make the butter clarify (separate) and your sauce will be ruined. You can re-heat it for a moment right before serving.
  15. If you are also serving pak choi, put a  large wok on a high heat with a little water and stir-fry the greens for 2-3 minutes stirring continuously.
  16. Remove the fish from the oven and transfer from the paper to a dinner plate using a spatula. Leave the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves behind. Pour the juices from the bag over the fish. Plate up the rice and vegetables and serve the sauce alongside.

Cooking ahead? The fish can be prepared several hours in advance (up to the end of step 8 and refrigerated). The sauce may split if made ahead however.


  1. This recipe looks awesome. I gotta try this very soon.

  2. This looks fantastic - I thought the same thing French/Thai fusion! Oh how I miss living there. I love your blog - your photos and recipes bring back so many memories. You might be interested in my Thai Style Stir Fry - it has Thai flavors but using things that I can easily find in the grocery stores in the US :)

    1. Thanks so much...on my way to check it out now :-)