Fish In a Bag

Fish In a Bag


Halibut with Tomatoes, Shitake and Olives Prepared
en Papillote

Makes: 4 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes

September 22, 2017  •  By Seamus Mullen

I get it, cooking fish is intimidating. Is it overcooked? Undercooked? It’s too bland, it’s too fishy, blah, blah, blah. In fact, American home cooks rarely cook fish compared to home cooks in Europe and Asia, and that’s largely because we’re scared of cooking fish. When I was growing up in Vermont, we almost never had fish, except for the brook trout my brother and I would periodically catch in our local streams or frozen fillets of bony, flavorless cod. In Vermont, we aren’t exactly known for our seafood.

Everything changed for me when I went abroad to Spain my senior year in high school and my host mother cooked fish every single damn day. One day she would be curing and grilling tiny anchovies and sardines and the next day; boiling octopus. I realize now in hindsight that a big part of why we ate so much seafood was because she knew how to make it taste so delicious! The truth of the matter is that fish requires good cooking skills and good techniques and in Spain those skills are passed down from generation to generation. It’s human nature that we tend to avoid the things we don’t do with confidence and for many home cooks, that means cooking fish. The good news is that with a few simple tricks, cooking fish is no more complicated than anything else.

Be Gentle!

The great french chef Olivier Roellinger once famously said “If you think your fish is done, it’s probably over cooked!” What he meant is that most people have a habit of cooking their fish too hard and too long. When it comes to fish, lower temperatures are key and timing is everything. If I’m cooking something with skin that I want crispy, say a piece of wild caught salmon, I’ll start with really high temperature in a pan to crisp the skin, then move the fish to a lower temperature oven to finish it. The other thing to remember is a technique called “carry over cooking” where the fish will continue to cook after removed from the heat source, so this requires a little bit of anticipation. The best tool to use is a simple cake tester. Slip the cake tester into the flesh of the fish after it’s been cooking for a few minutes, and then touch it to your lower lip, when the cake tester is very warm but not yet painfully hot, that’s when it’s best to remove it from the heat.

One of my favorite ways to cook fish is en papillote, or wrapped in a wax paper pouch. It’s extremely easy and nearly fool proof, but it requires a little craft to fold up the wax paper in a half-moon shape, so I often suggest a simple hack: use a brown paper lunch bag.

Fresh basil from seamus mullen's herb garden


  • Four 6-oz pieces of wild halibut

  • 4 small handfuls of cherry tomatoes

  • 1 cup shitake caps, sliced

  • 1 clove garlic, sliced

  • ¼ cup kalamata olives

  • 4 spring onion bulbs

  • salt and pepper

  • zest of 1 lemon

  • 4 sprigs of tarragon, dill and basil

  • 4 tsp white wine vinegar

  • 4 TBSP olive oil + oil to rub the lunch bags

  • 4 brown paper lunch bags


1. Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

2. Season halibut with salt, pepper and lemon zest.

3. In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the halibut with all the remaining ingredients and carefully fold together with a rubber spatula.

4. Divide the fish and vegetables amongst the four lunch bags, thoroughly rubbed with olive oil, then roll up the bags, place on a baking sheet and back in the oven for 7-10 minutes.

5. After 7 minutes check the fish with a cake tester to make sure it’s very warm, but not scalding hot, in the center. The ideal temperature should be about 130 F.

6. Remove from the oven and tear open the bags and slip the contents onto a plate. Serve with fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice if you like.