In 1840, a while after he successfully launched Antoine’s, the legendary New Orleans eatery, French immigrant and master chef Antoine Alciatore created a dish to honor his fellow Frenchmen, the late Montgolfier brothers. The brothers designed, built and successfully launched a people-carrying hot-air balloon made from paper.
The dish Alicatore created was pompano fish fillets plus judicious seasonings, sealed and baked in parchment papers. The steam generated by bubbling juices puff up the parchment to a shape resembling a balloon. The hot packets are served sealed — and opened at the table by the fortunate diners, releasing a savory steam imbued with a tantalizing aroma of good things to come. Alciatore appropriately called the dish Pompano Montgolfier. Later Alicatore handed the helm of Antoine’s to his son, Jules – so he could return to his native land for retirement.
Fast forward, after Jules Alciatore had taken over, the restaurant was selected to host a banquet honoring the renown Brazilian balloonist Alberto-Santos Dumont.
Jules Alicatore recalled his father’s balloonist recipe, added his own touches and called it the Pompano en Papillote. The dish was a home run and joined the ranks of other world-famous recipes created by chefs at Antoine’s including Oysters Rockefeller and Eggs Sardou.
The Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) is ideal for this recipe because the filets are uniform in thickness from front to back. In addition to that, many fish aficionados agree that the pompano taste reigns supreme in fishdom. Mark Twain said (Pompano) “… is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”
Two schools of thought
Preparation of Pompano en Papilotte in a heart-shaped piece of cooking parchment is the same as the original. Past that, there are two schools of thought on what accompanies the pompano fillets in the parchment. Pompano purists insist on a minimalist approach that preserves the naturally buttery flavor of the fish. In the other camp, chefs stuff the parchment with other seafood including crabmeat, shrimp, oysters and some veggies — in some cases, all of the above floating in a rich sauce.
The traditional papillote is trimmed in a heart shape from a single sheet of parchment.
If the traditional papillote is a challenge, make the squared off heart which works just as well.
Pompano purist recipe
Famous New Orleans food critic Tom Fitszmorris summed up the minimalist point of view when he wrote this opinion on his NOmenu.com web site, “The flavor is the flavor of [pompano] fish. I know that sounds nutty, but too many of the fish we are fed don't have that taste. The general preference is for blandness. Pompano detractors describe it as "fishy." So do I. That's what I like about it.
“The axiom to follow when cooking pompano is to keep it simple. Broiled or grilled, with a touch of lemon butter, salt, and pepper – that's the ultimate. The natural flavor of pompano stands alone. Anything further detracts rather than adds.
“The all-time worst use is pompano en papillote--at least when done in the traditional way, with a thick seafoody sauce. The sauce and the preparation are good, but they overwhelm the taste of the fish.”
Fitzsimmons puts his recipes where his pen is with this minimalist offering from his nomenu.com site:
"Nouvelle Pompano en Papillote
4 fillets of flounder (or pompano, trout, or salmon), about 6 oz. each
2 Tbs. softened butter
1/2 cup green onions, green part only, thinly sliced
1/2 stalk celery, cut into matchsticks
4 tsp. fresh dill, snipped fine
1 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon, chopped
1 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. white wine
1/4 tsp. Tabasco jalapeno pepper sauce
Cut the paper large enough to enclose the fish completely, with enough overlap to fold over to make a tight seal.
After washing the fish fillets and checking for bones, generously butter each fillet. Place them on the parchment paper. Top with the green onions, celery, dill, and tarragon.
Combine the lemon juice, white wine, and Tabasco. Sprinkle the mixture all over the fish. Add salt to taste.”
Fold the paper over and fold the edges down hard, then fold down again to seal the pouch as securely as possible. Place the papillotes on a baking pan and place them in the center of the oven. Bake for 15-18 minutes (longer if the fish is thick).
Pompano with all the fixin’s recipe
Emeril Lagasse sits firmly ensconced on the other side with his put-a-bunch-of-other-stuff-in-the-parchment recipe.
1 small whole pompano, dressed, about 1 pound
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and fresh black pepper
1/2 pound crab meat, picked for cartilage
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 piece of parchment
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/2 pound cubed butter, cold
5 sprigs fried parsley
Essence (Emeril's Creole Seasoning):
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the fish with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and fresh black pepper. In a saute pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot, saute the fish for 2 minutes on each side. Remove the fish from the pan. In a mixing bowl, toss the crab meat with the garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the crab meat mixture over the fish. Fold the parchment in half lengthwise and place the fish on one half of the paper. Fold the remaining half over the fish and roll the edges of the paper up to seal the fish tightly in the bag. The parchment bag should form the shape of the fish.
Place the parchment bag on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. In a saucepan, combine the parsley, lemon juice and shallots. Bring the liquid up to a simmer and reduce the liquid by half, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the cold butter until all the butter is incorporated. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. To assemble, using a knife, cut the top of the bag to expose the fish. Spoon the sauce over the fish and garnish with fried parsley and Essence.
We’re not taking sides in this culinary controversy. It’s a matter of personal taste. That said, both sides do agree that for a papillote dish, the Florida Pompano reigns supreme in taste and consistency.
We are your source for fresh, never frozen Florida Pompano. For more information and how to order fresh pompano delivered to your door by FedEx® visit FreshPompano.com