Cooking Fish in Parchment + Salmon and Veg en Papillote

French for ‘in paper,’ cooking en Papillote is a lovely method that everyone should know about.

Because parchment is grease- and moisture-resistant, the contents of sealed packets cook using trapped moist heat in a dry heat environment. Aromatics like vegetables, herbs, spices, citrus and wine reinforce moisture and infuse layer upon layer of flavor with minimal need for fat, keeping it healthful and light. Bonus: Clean-up is tossing away the paper!

I encourage you to focus on good quality ingredients when using simple techniques to let them truly shine and make your dining experience extra special. The recipe I have for you today begins with beautiful salmon fillets from our wonderful waterside fish market.

Salmon parchment packet_HGN

Snug inside the neat little package salmon, zucchini, Swiss chard and tomatoes steam in their own juices, ensuring maximum flavor of perfectly flaky fish and tender veg. Crisp white wine, rich evoo, and fresh lemon zest add a brightness and balance. Served alongside a simple vinaigrette-dressed green salad or fluffy grains, this meal is both filling and nutritious.

What’s in it for me?

A rainbow of colors not only adds visual appeal, but reflects rich nutrient content. At only 127 calories, one 3-ounce portion of salmon* provides 22 grams of high-quality complete protein, about 70% of your daily value (DV) for selenium, and is a good source of several of the B vitamins, particularly B12.

The omega-3 fatty acids rich in fatty fish, like salmon, albacore tuna and sardines, are important for brain, skin and eye health, help in the prevention of heart disease and certain cancers, and may guard against dementia and other age-related cognitive declines. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular are considered the most beneficial of the omega-3 fats, and studies suggest that regular consumption of DHA by expectant mothers is associated with decreased risk of postpartum depression, and may be linked to improved communication skills, visual acuity, and sleep patterns in their infants.

Zucchini and Swiss chard both deliver lutein and zeaxanthin for antioxidant protection of your eyes from age-related damage and degeneration. Another common nutrient: antioxidant vitamin A, to promote rapid turnover of skin cells (especially important as we head into the dry winter months) — half-cup servings of zucchini and Swiss chard provide nearly 30% and more than 100% of the vitamin A DV each, respectively.

From this serving of Swiss chard you can also expect over 1/4 of your DV for antioxidant vitamin C, nearly 20% that for magnesium, almost 15% for manganesepotassium, and iron, and more than 350% of your vitamin K** needs. Tomatoes also impart vitamin C plus the phytochemical lycopene to combat harmful cell-damaging free radicals, strengthen elasticity of skin tissues, and protect the heart; the latter may offer risk reduction for prostate cancer.

Once you’ve mastered this technique, the possibilities are endless and can be as elaborate or basic as you like. Simply mix and match family-favorite seasonal produce, herbs and spices with your choice of fish. Shrimp, scallops and mussels are elegant alternatives. If seafood is a no-go, chicken breast, sausage, beans, or even tofu would work, but note that cooking times will vary. You can also change up the ingredients for each person based on preferences or allergy needs.

Cooking fish en Papillote is a versatile, practically foolproof method with a show-stopping presentation that is sure to satisfy — in every sense of the word.

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… Have you tried packet cooking? What are your go-to fillers?

Salmon and Veg en Papillote
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
Recipe Type: Entree, seafood, fish, parchment packet, weeknight meal
Makes: 4 servings
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or good quality butter)
  • 2 small- to medium-sized zucchini, peeled (if desired) and ends trimmed
  • 4 large or 16 baby Swiss chard leaves
  • 4, 4- to 6-ounce fresh or frozen and thawed salmon fillets (no more than 3/4" thick), patted dry (see HGN Notes)
  • 1 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained (or 15 to 20 small cherry or grape tomatoes, halved)
  • Sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, or other herbs of your choosing (optional)
  • 2 tsp good quality white wine, divided
  • Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Zest of 1 lemon, plus wedges, to serve
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the middle. Tear off 4 pieces of parchment paper, each about 15" long. Using a brush or your fingers, coat the surface of each with 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, leaving a 2" uncovered border around the outside. Bring the salmon fillets out of the refrigerator to take the chill off while you prep the veg.
  2. Cut each trimmed zucchini in half lengthwise, then cut each half lengthwise again into 2 or 3 long sticks -- aim for the thickness of a fat piece of asparagus. Cut these long sticks in half crosswise, so that each is about 2" long.
  3. Place one fillet in the center of each coated piece of parchment paper, and arrange 1/4 of the zucchini, Swiss chard leaves and stems, and tomatoes along the sides. Lay any herbs you like on top, drizzle each with 1/2 tsp white wine, and season everything lightly with salt and pepper. Finish with a few gratings of fresh lemon zest.
  4. To wrap, bring the long sides of the paper pieces up together and fold over twice, creasing well after each fold -- as if you were closing a paper bag. Then fold each end twice in the same manner, but fold under (toward your work surface) so the packet stays neatly wrapped. Place the packet on a rimmed baking tray; repeat with the remaining parchment pieces and ingredients.
  5. Place the tray on the center rack of the oven, and bake until the fish is cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness. To test for doneness, carefully peek into one of the pouches (mind the steam!) – it should be completely opaque, and the flesh should flake when poked with a fork or toothpick.
  6. Remove the tray from the oven. Set the packets directly on your serving plates for each person to (carefully!) unwrap, breathe deep, and dig in. Serve with lemon wedges and extra virgin olive oil to dress, as desired. Alternatively, you can remove the fillets and veg from the packets to individual plates prior to serving, spooning any liquid over top of each.
HGN Notes
Back in grad school I fell in love with a Fannie Farmer recipe for fish baked in foil packets. After many years and many iterations I switched allegiance to parchment paper -- both for aesthetics and for the ability to go wild with acidic ingredients like citrus and tomatoes without the metallic off-taste.

To prepare everything several hours in advance, place sealed packets closure-side-up on a rimmed plate or tray in the refrigerator. Before cooking, let them sit at room temperature for 20 minutes to take the chill off.

An alternative wrapping technique -- the classic, actually -- can be learned from this diagram: (video tutorial link on page as well).

Not in the mood to heat up the house, or headed on a camping trip? Take it outside and let the grill or firepit do the work! Opt for the foil here, filling and closing as directed in the recipe. Place the sealed packets closure-side-up over medium-high heat (about 400° F), and cook for about 10 minutes. Check for doneness; if fish isn't ready, return the packet to the heat a few more minutes to finish.

+ If salmon is unavailable, try red snapper, trout, cod, flounder, pompano, tilapia, orange roughy, etc. You could also experiment with shrimp and scallops. Note that different fish and different thicknesses will alter cooking times; begin checking for doneness at the 10-minute mark.
+ Use spinach, bell peppers, asparagus, fresh cherry tomatoes or tomato slices, fennel, sliced fingerling potatoes, or your other favorite veg instead of, or in addition to, those featured in this recipe.
+ Swap lime, orange, clementine or grapefruit for the lemon.
+ Before sealing add fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, tarragon, dill, parsley or chives to add more flavor -- top each with a couple sprigs, or about 1 Tbsp chopped.
+ Kick the flavor up a notch with a few dashes of curry powder, Chinese five-spice, dried herb mixes, za'atar, dukkah, Cajun or other spice and herb blends. A small spoon of Tandoori or Thai curry paste, marmalade or date chutney might be fun as well!
+ Bring the heat with sliced chillies or a dash of chilli paste, your favorite hot chilli powder, or a dash of hot sauce.

Recipe is an HGN original.

*All percentages provided reflect ingredients after cooking.

**The recommendations for those on blood-thinners, such as Coumadin (or generic warfarin), is to be consistent with the amount of vitamin K eaten from day to day, as the two interact with one another. If you take any of these types of medications, be aware of the high vitamin K content found in Swiss chard and other leafy greens.

+ + + +

p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.

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    • Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN says:

      Thank you, MJ! We’re pretty keen on parchment cooking as well, and while fish is the usual protein, your sausage with herbs and summer veg is a delicious variation. We recently did chicken breast halves with ginger, jalapeno and mango that was lovely also. So many great choices to vary the theme! Happy baking, and cheers.

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