Prince Harry loved this salmon recipe Meghan Markle made for a dinner party. I tried it at home and here's my honest review.
Chefs say baking salmon in parchment paper is the perfect way to keep the fish moist during the cooking process.
I've been a fervent follower of the British Royal Family for most of my life. I'm not just referring to the current incarnation: I've read every book and watched every film related to everyone from Henry VIII up through Queen Victoria. And, of course, I'm an ardent viewer of The Crown.
So, a few months ago when it was announced that Prince Harry was working on a book about his own tumultuous relationship with the Royal Family — his family — I was desperate to scour every last word. I didn't dream that, by reading the Duke of Sussex's account of his family dramas, I'd come across what is potentially a new favorite salmon recipe.
Roughly two-thirds of the way into Spare, Prince Harry shared a story about a meal that Meghan Markle created at a rather pivotal intersection in their relationship — both with each other and his extended family. While Prince Harry didn't reveal specifically which recipe it was that Meghan prepared, he did share that it was a baked salmon recipe from Food and Wine that involved parchment paper. Based on the ingredients and the timing of this moment in the timeline of their relationship, I'm reasonably certain it was this Salmon, Broccolini and Fresh Red Chile Papillotes recipe from a late 2015 issue of the magazine, which would have come out just before, when the couple was quietly getting serious and not yet front-page news across the globe.
"Meg had cut out a roasted salmon recipe from Food and Wine and with that we'd made a list and divided it in two," wrote Prince Harry in his book. "She was in charge of finding a baking sheet, while I was tasked with finding parchment paper."
Prince Harry wrote about how the couple, who at that point hadn't gone public with their relationship, split the shopping list and had a shopping date at a local Waitrose (a British supermarket chain) to find all the ingredients. "I grabbed a basket, walked casually up and down the aisles," he wrote. "Beside the fruit and veg, I felt her stroll past me. Actually, it was more a saunter than a stroll. Very saucy. We slid our eyes towards each other, just an instant, then quickly away."
Overall, the discussion of the couple's preparations for this important dinner party (the first formal dinner with extended family is a big deal in any relationship) was a cute section of Spare, full of stolen glances across the grocery aisle. After shopping, they returned home to their cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace, where they hosted Harry's cousin, Princess Eugenie, and her then-boyfriend (and now-husband) Jack, for a parchment-baked salmon dinner.
Prince Harry wrote that everyone was gushing about how delicious the meal was. And it's an easy meal to make: If it's the same recipe I believe it was, it involves a simple and short shopping list of broccolini, salmon filets, thinly-sliced lemons and Fresno chilies. While some of the ingredients are seasonal and hard to come by in some locations (I had a devil of a time finding Fresno chilies), there are substitutes that will work just fine. In the case of my Fresno chilies, a red jalapeño did the trick, as would something like a serrano pepper.
How I made Meghan Markle's baked salmon:
Parchment paper cut into large pieces (one per salmon filet)
A pound of broccolini, rinsed
One lemon, sliced into thin slices
A Fresno chile (or similar pepper) cut into rings (one pepper produced enough rings for two slices of salmon)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Start by preheating the oven to 425 F. Lay the parchment paper flat, then divide the broccolini on it. (Can't find broccolini? Regular broccoli or another preferred vegetable would be fine here.) Then on top of each cluster of broccolini, add a salmon filet — one per person — and two thin slices of lemon per piece of salmon. Then, add a few chili rings and a drizzle of olive oil, as well as salt and pepper to taste.
Now, all you have to do is fold the parchment paper over the salmon neatly and bake for 15 minutes.
When the salmon comes out of the oven, just unwrap the parchment to release the steam. The veggies should be tender and the salmon should be moist and flaky. Thanks to the peppers and lemon, it's very flavorful and delicious. I can absolutely see why Eugenie and Meghan were so close after Meghan made this at their dinner party.
Baking parchment salmon at home
Parchment paper may seem counterintuitive: Many get pretty nervous the first time they consider putting any variant of paper in the oven, as it seems instinctively to be a rather bad idea. However, it has a lot of benefits when cooking fish.
"Cooking with parchment paper is fantastic, especially when cooking salmon because it helps keep the fish moist and tender," says chef Hidekazu Tojo of Tojo's Restaurant in Vancouver, Canada, a region known for having some of the best salmon in the world. Tojo is a chef with a royal connection: He cooked for the Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Kate, during a tour amidst their tenure as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. During that visit, he served them geoduck (a sustainable giant clam). However, this is a chef who frequently cooks fish in parchment paper, as it keeps the product moist with minimal interference to the natural flavors.
"Salmon is particularly lean and susceptible to drying out," Tojo tells Yahoo Life. "Baking it with herbs and seasonings in parchment allows for these flavors to infuse into the salmon and you also don't have to use very much butter or olive oil. It also makes for an easy clean up."
How you place the parchment on and around the salmon will impact results as well. "When cooking salmon en papillote (in a paper wrapper), I recommend making sure that the parchment packet you've created is tightly crimped on the edges so that none of the steam escapes," says Kai Chase, a personal chef to celebrities like Kevin Hart, Barack Obama and Mary J. Blige. "No one wants a dry fish."
One drawback to cooking with parchment paper may be that it's more difficult to know when your fish is done. "When in doubt, it is better to check on your salmon earlier to avoid overcooking," says Tojo. "I actually like to take out my salmon a minute or two earlier than what the instructions in the recipe say, as the fish will continue to cook in the parchment packet even after it comes out of the oven."
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