Brown Bagging for Dinner

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The French have a knack for making something very simple to sound “chi-chi-frou-frou” and charging a helluva’lot for it.

I can be frugal. Tonight’s dinner was “en papillote” but I ran out of parchment paper. “En papillote” simply means “in paper”.

I’ve seen many dishes that are tucked into little packages of foil, parchment, pastry or phyllo. The Greeks have a dish called Kleftiko and lamb or chicken are usually the hidden main. Today I’m using a brown paper bag that we all used to lug our lunch in for school.

Save your parchment paper for baking and or making the ultimate paper plane. Brown paper lunch bags are where’s it at!

Your ingredients can be what you want, the possibilities are endless. In this instance, I used a fillet of sea bass. The French call this fish Loup de Mer and us Greeks call it Lavraki.

The cooking process is easy. The important instructions to follow are the technique:

  • Only use brown paper lunch bags, unrecycled. Do not use paper bags from a fast food eatery, supermarket or any other bag for other commercial use.
  • Soak the paper bags thoroughly in vegetable or olive oil in a casserole or other vessel.
  • Ensure the paper bags have absorbed the oil.
  • Before filling the bags with your fish, hang and wipe away any excess oil. This is important as you don’t want excess oil to smoke in your oven.
  • Turn the kitchen fan on as you may get some smoking but be assured, the paper bag will not catch fire.
  • Do not overcook your fish. This could lead to the bottom part of the bag to stick to your fish.
  • Have someone help you inserting the fish into the bag. I like including some thinly sliced potatoes with fish, some herbs and lemon wedges. Have someone hold the bag open for you while you pick up and slide the fish medley neatly into the bag.
  • I’ve found a preheated oven of 425F, middle rack to work best. Bake your fish in a bag for 15-20 minutes, maximum.
  • Cut the accompanying potatoes and vegetables, etc. thinly so that they may cook in the same time that the fish takes.
  • Place your fish packets on a baking sheet for baking.
  • Carefully fold the opening of the paper bag underneath to create a seal. The better the seal, the better the fish will cook from the steam.

Are you with me so far? It’s not rocket science but a neat, easy way to present a meal to friends and guests. I got a big kick out of cutting open the paper lunch bag with my kitchen scissors.

Think of flavours that you like for fish and try them out using this method. Here, I’m showing you a baked fish in a paper bag with classic Greek ingredients. I’ll be playing around with other flavours and I’ll be sure to share them with you!

Sea Bass Baked in a Paper Bag
(per fillet)

1 sea bass fillet
1 brown paper lunch bag

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1/2 potato, thinly sliced

1 scallion, white part only, julienned

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill

1/2 tsp. salt or Vegeta seasoning
(chicken or vegetable soup base)

1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 lemon slice

Olive oil

Extra-virgin olive oil for finishing

Pre-heated 425F oven

  1. Take your brown paper bag and place in a baking dish and cover it with olive or vegetable oil. Allow the bag(s) to soak up the oil.
  2. Rinse you fillet and pat dry. Place your fillet on a flat work surface and build your packet. Season your fillet with salt and pepper. Now place your row of potato slices onto the fish.
  3. Season the top of the potatoes and top with your herbs and finish off with a slice of lemon.
  4. Carefully wipe away any excess oil from the paper bags and place them on the baking sheet.
  5. Have someone else hold the bag open for you. Using a wide spatula and your hand, carefully lift and slide the fish into the bag without disturbing your layers too much.
  6. Carefully fold the opening of the bag down and underneath the body of the bag to form a seal.
  7. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes on the middle rack. Remove and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  8. Place each bag onto a plate and have cut open a slit into the top of the bag to reveal the surprise. Have some extra-virgin olive oil on hand for a final drizzle.

© 2007,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

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18 Comments for “Brown Bagging for Dinner”

Laurie Constantino

says:

This looks wonderful Peter — moist, tender, and flavorful.
I wonder though about using brown paper bags. I’ve always been taught that they are not safe for cooking because they are made usually made partially with recycled materials that can emit toxic fumes. Maybe I’m buying into an urban myth? I just googled and found this from the usda: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Turkey_Alt_Routes/index.asp#2
What do you think?

Núria

says:

Ai, Ai, Ai, what a delightful thing you’ve done? You are such a hard worker!!! I’m for a chi-chi-fru-fru this weekend!(I just love this name… when I have a new doggie, I know what the name will be!!!) We also do the papillote with silver paper… I love it :D with all the fish juices… mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. So healthy and so good, Peter!

Peter M

says:

Laurie, you brought up an interesting concern. I’ve also read the USDA concern (with others) and it sounds like they are warning people to not use fast food paper bags, grocery store bags or anything from recycled paper.

My sense is that brown paper lunch bags that we’ve all used for our lunches as kids and today for our kids would be fine.

I should also mention that Alton Brown (Good Eats) uses a brown paper lunch bag to make his own micro-popcorn, David Lieberman(Good Deal) bakes a fish like this and Bob Blumer (Surreal Gourmet)has also employed this method.

I’ve sent some emails out to the Food Network and a local manufacturer of paper and recycled paper products asking for them to look into the matter.

In this world of litigation, I’d think these recipes would have been pulled from internet sources by now.

I’m thinking that brown lunch bags would be fine as they were made to come into contact with food.

Finally, if more evidence is found that this method of baking is suspect, I will pull the recipe off the blog.

Patricia Scarpin

says:

Peter,
I have made fish this way but used foil instead – I really like the idea of using paper bags!

Ivy

says:

Very interesting way of baking. Bass fish is one of my favourites.
First question. Do you get fresh bass in Canada?
If yes, are they fresh from the Ocean or are they from piscicultures?
After 20 minutes are the vegetables soft enough?
And my last question is since we don’t have these brown lunch bags, apart from parchment paper if I use the “Roast-in-it” bags which have been lying in my drawers for ages, would that be okay?

Peter M

says:

Ivy, we do get fresh fish…Toronto is a 90 minute flight from the Atlantic.

Second, the vegetables are soft enough. The potatoes were thinly sliced and the packet creates a steam pocket. Steam and air pressure are at play here.

Thirdly, the “roast it” bags would work wonderfully.

Happy cook

says:

I think I should come to you blog more often. I might learn more how to be frugal and save some money :-) Love the idea of using the bread bag

Laurie Constantino

says:

Peter, what you say about the safety of brown lunch bags makes a lot of sense — particularly since food network seems to have sanctioned it in our litigious world (as you say). I’ll be interested to hear if they write back! (And I WOULDN’T pull the recipe entirely since it looks like a good one and since you can use things like parchment, foil, etc. instead of the brown paper.)

Peter M

says:

Laurie, I’m curious as to who will reply and what their take will be.

I suspect if one uses brown paper lunch bags, unrecycled – then this method is safe.

I’m aware of other food packet techniques but I really like this one for it’s quirky simplicity and the rustic look.

Stay tuned….

Ivy

says:

Sorry Peter you misunderstood me. I asked if you get fresh bass not fresh fish. I asked that because I thought we could get it only in the Mediterranean.

countrygirlcityliving

says:

Yum! This looks delicious. And who would have thought that a paper bag would be okay in the oven. Very impressive. I would love to see the greek version with chicken or even lamb. Do you have any recipes for that too?

Peter M

says:

Here’s an update to Laurie and others…I received an email from Bob Blumer (Surreal Gourmet) and he too did a fish in a brown lunch bag.

His opinion was that the USDA warning pertained to turkey in brown bag recipes, the long cooking time and danger from recycled paper, dyes, glues, etc.

Baking fish in a lunch bag is safe as they were made to have contact with food (kids’ lunches) and the fish in the paper is being baked, at most for 15-20 minutes.

Conclusion: brown paper lunch bags are in!

Peter M

says:

I’ve received further info from a company rep. from Atlantic Packaging (Canadian pulp & paper producer) and their brown paper lunch bags are combustible at 450F and higher.

So, 425F is a safe temperature.