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Fish En Papillote (kinda): Mom’s Lazy Dinners

My Mom, like every other mother out there, is a hardworking woman.  Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I’d remember how she’d get up every morning to sweep the entire house, she’d cook all 3 meals 6 day’s a week, do everyone’s laundry, and scrub the stove like it was going out of style.  As a child, I would look in fear and awe at how this diminutive woman could possess this unnatural energy to do the same thing day in and day out for more than a decade with only the occasional pocket book or cooking show to amuse her.  Of course that unnatural energy I later found out (yeah…I’m not exactly the brightest light bulb in the bunch), was pure unadulterated Love.


But she had her moments.  Looking back, I knew which days she wasn’t in the zone; when the energy just wasn’t quite there.  Looking back at her dinners, I could tell which days she wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest her tired bones.  Those days were the ones where her dinners had less than 6 ingredients and minimal prep.  Those days were not the ones where she pressure cooked ox tail for 2 hours to make her rib-sticking soup, or the ones where she baked multi-layer Shepherd’s Pie against the protests of my Filipino-to-the-core father’s taste buds that craved rice and soup.  Those were the days when she stuck a fish in foil, threw it in the oven, and simply called it “Baked Fish”.

The more bougie of us know this as “Poisson En Papillote” or “Fish in Parchment”.  Of course our version utilized a Filipino sentiment, swapping the parchment for foil and favoring the cheaper milkfish.  A truly bare bones recipe, this one is perfect for the end of a tiresome week when all you want is some peace and quiet.  Less than 30 minutes to cook and because of the perfect balance of acidity and fat, you get comfort without all the effort.  It was a dish that said: “I’m dead tired, and yet I will feed you the very best”.

Let’s keep this short and simple…

1 whole fish, preferably the kinda with white meat like milkfish or tilapia (you can also use fillets but…where’s the romance in that?!)
1 tomato, sliced into rings
1 red onion, sliced into rings
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Salt & pepper


1) Preheat your oven to 350.  Meanwhile, rinse your fish of any debris in the stomach cavity and pull the gap open a little wider (the fishmonger should have already gutted the fish for you, otherwise, you’ll have to clean it yourself).

2) Stuff the cavity with the tomato and onion rings and sprinkle the outside with salt & pepper.  Rub it down with the olive oil and lemon.

3) Wrap the fish in foil, twisting the corners and crimping the top.  Make sure you leave a little opening to let the steam out.  Stick the fish in the oven and cook for 20 or so minutes.  Check it at around the 15-minute mark to make sure it’s coming along nicely.  If it flakes, it’s ready to go.  Otherwise, pop it in for another 5 minutes.

Open the foil gently and give yourself a minute to let the aroma of gently stewed onions and lemon mixed with the fish’s fat waft over you.  Yes, there are very few ingredients.  Yes, there are only 3 steps.  Yes, my mom chose the most mundane of all names.  But make sure you season it liberally with pure, un-processed Love like my mother did…and it’ll taste nothing short of phenomenal.  Happy eating!

Filed under: All Posts, Cook, Recipes, Snack

About the Author

Posted by

Paolo Española is a wandering diner in search of a good meal and an ever-elusive identity. He started this blog during a soul-crushing stint as an Accountant and later co-founded Hidden Apron, his side project that’s dabbled in everything from private catering, hosting pop-up dinners, podcasting, and everywhere in between. He is a contributing author to the best-selling cookbook, “The New Filipino Kitchen” and believes that food is a universal language that can solve the world's most challenging problems, help people believe in their own potential, create communities to shared stories, and realize that in Breaking Bread, we Break Boundaries.


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