French in a Flash: Cod en Papillote Recipe

Photographs: Kerry Saretsky

I was having lunch with an old friend this week who is incredibly successful, and recently engaged. She looked at me over lunch with wide eyes and admitted that she had absolutely no idea how to cook, but wanted to make something for her fiancé maybe once a week that was healthy, light, took very little skill, and could be thrown together in about twenty minutes—something quick that she couldn't mess up.

Cod en papillote is that recipe. I realize now that I never heard the word "papillote" outside of the culinary term "en papillote," and when I looked it up, I found that it meant curlpaper—for curling hair. Very quaint. But in culinary terms, it means wrapping and sealing food, using fish or poultry, in parchment and putting it in the oven so it steams in its own juices. Parchment requires fancy folding, so I switched to foil. This recipe is seamless, impossible to get wrong, and requires no clean up.

I take thick slices of boneless skinless cod and nestle each on a sheet of foil along with some fennel fronds, marjoram, other herbs, white wine, and crème fraiche. Seal the package, pop in the oven for 15 minutes, and out comes individual portions of tender, flaking, steamed fish drenched in the flavors of herbs and wine. The great thing about this recipe is you can change the herbs to whatever you want—chervil and lemon or basil and tarragon in the summer, rosemary and thyme in the winter. You could use salmon or sea bass or halibut—any thick, flaky fish. Just pile the herbs on top, seal it up, and it comes out perfectly every time.

Then all you have to do after dinner is crumple up the foil, and toss it in the recycling. Perfect for a girl who works a full time job and is planning a wedding, while trying to put dinner on the table!

Recipe Facts



Total: 30 mins

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  • 4- to 6-ounce boneless, skinless cod fillet
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • Herbs (fennel fronds, marjoram, chervil, chives, dill, parsley, basil, thyme, rosemary—the more, the better)
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon crème fraiche
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. In the center of a large square of heavy duty foil, place 1 teaspoon butter. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides, and place on the butter. Top with a good amount of herbs, zest, white wine, and crème fraiche. Seal the bundle, and place on a baking sheet.

  2. Bake for 15 minutes, and serve immediately. I like to serve it with crusty warm bread or plain boiled potatoes.

  3. Note: You can get creative with herbs here, but if you don't know where to start, here are some of my favorite combinations:

    Fennel fronds and chervil: Light and fresh and not intrusive.

    Basil and tarragon: Very summery.

    Rosemary and thyme: Woodsy and autumnal.

    Parsley and dill: Dill being a distinctive seafood herb, this is quite traditional.

    Fennel fronds, chervil, parsley, marjoram, chives: What I used personally, proving that sometimes more is more.