Regardless of the rains, the Portland Picnic Society must go on, and this month we had a very special shelter—marvelous Maurice, pastry chef extraordinaire Kristen Murray’s bright, white downtown delight, the perfect setting for PPS En Papillote.
And as every papillote picnic should, this one started with a JLo-themed invite:
Dear lovely ladies of PPS,
A few weeks ago, JLo released her new single, “I Luh Ya Papi(llote),” a very elegant ode to stuffed pouches and excessive wine consumption that is the perfect anthem for our April gathering, “PPS En Papillote.” What timing!
The consummate celebration of spring, PPS En Papillote involves us all getting together to make fish pockets and drink too much pink wine, or, in classier terms, to make sole en papillote and sip rosé. And since I have not heard back from JLo about using her yacht, our very own beloved Kristen Murray has graciously invited PPS to have our picnic right inside her exquisite Maurice, on Wed. April 16th at 6:30pm.
Here are the rules of En Papillote En Masse engagement:
1. Everyone brings one item to stuff the pouches with—e.g., pre-sliced and diced spring produce, shallots & garlic, fresh herbs, butter, olive oil, a nice thick chorizo (sorry, couldn’t be helped), etc. We’ll line everything up buffet-style on the bar, then stuff, fold, and bake our fancy fish pockets.
2. Everyone brings a simple side dish—oysters, a salad, a baguette or a sweet would be nice. Andrea, per your Facebook post, you’re in charge of the Courtesan au Chocolats.
3. Everyone brings a bottle of rosé, for sipping and for splashing in pouches. (See video instruction at 3:21 sec.)
I will bring fish and parchment hearts for everyone, and my iPod with our theme song on it. Obviously you get major bonus points if you learn the dance moves and perform them at the picnic (ahem, Michelle & Lexi). Or just for wearing JLo’s red sleeveless cropped hoodie vest/life preserver, which is probably practical considering these rains we’ve been having.
Hope to see you all there!
Come picnic eve, Portland was a far cry from the sunny swank of JLo-land, but everyone splashed and trickled in one by one, bearing pouch stuffings, seasonal salads, Little T baguettes, a round of Ancient Heritage’s Pearl, homemade poppyseed cupcakes sprinkled with bee pollen, and bottles of wine, and soon we’d amassed quite the spread. In the kitchen, Kristen shucked oysters, while over by the pastry case, bottles of Teutonic rosé were opened and poured.
Dining en papillote is the perfect way to accommodate a large party with a creative twist—everyone contributes something, stuffing the pouches provides an interactive experience (kids love it), and cleanup is minimal, since you just slice your main course right out of its parchment pouch and voila, it’s plated. And because they’re completely customizable and can even be rendered vegetarian/vegan if you just assemble a veggie pouch (or a veggie/tofu pouch I suppose), they work wonderfully for diners of all diet persuasions.
As for the logistics, possible pouch stuffers include thinly sliced, diced, chopped or minced fresh herbs, garlic, shallots, onions, asparagus, green beans, cherry tomatoes, fennel, zucchini, celery, lemon, radishes, Japanese turnips, green garlic, leeks, nettles, spinach, bell peppers, new potatoes, Niçoise olives, capers, chorizo, etc. The sky’s the limit! Go wild at the farmers’ market.
Don’t forget good salt and pepper for seasoning, and have olive oil, cream or butter (especially herbaceous compound butter) on hand to add richness to the resulting broth. Reserve a bit of whatever white wine or rosé you’re drinking to splash over everything just before sealing it up, this helps the pouch get as steamy as an I Luh Ya Papi video, keeping the fish nice and moist while it’s baking. If you don’t want to use wine, try broth, coconut milk or water.
As far as fish is concerned, I use salmon, cod, halibut or sole depending on what looks good at the market. For a large group, sole is very affordable—I bought two filets per person at New Seasons, and all the fish for our group of 13 came to just $25.
Assembling the pouches is easy:
1. Preheat the oven to 450. Cut 16-inch parchment squares into heart shapes.
2. Lay your fish on one side of the heart, about a half inch from the fold, and pile whatever you please on top.
3. Add a few dabs of butter or a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, and pleat your pouch shut all the way around, starting with the top of the heart and working down towards the point.
4. When you’ve got a few inches of folding left, tilt the opening upwards, and pour in a hearty splash of whatever white/pink wine you’re drinking, or one of the aforementioned liquid substitutes. Give the point of your parchment heart a good twist to seal it up.
5. Label pouches with a Sharpie so you don’t end up with one made by your friend who’s off salt, butter and/or wine, place all the pouches on rimmed baking sheets, and bake for 8-10 minutes.
The resulting fish dish is so beautiful and flavorful, you’d think you slaved over them for hours, even if all you did was spend an hour shopping and prepping, then watch music videos until it was time for dinner.
When the PPS pouches emerged from Maurice’s oven, we all gathered in the window tables and wined and dined until late,
whereupon Kristen passed around her ethereal Lapsang Souchong chocolate truffles and flaky golden butter cookies, then sent us all away with neatly wrapped fresh currant rosemary scones and chocolate brioche praline sugar rolls for breakfast. (Try and top that, JLo!)
And there you have it, a pop-princess inspired pouch stuffing party worthy of a picnic society meetup, or maybe just an impromptu Sunday night supper. (For your suggested Pandora station, click here.)