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Pesce al cartoccio is the process of cooking fish by first wrapping it in parchment paper, often with seasonings and other ingredients to add flavor, then baking it. Often used with an entire fish of about one pound (about 450 grams), it can also be used on smaller pieces of fish, such as tilapia fillets, with similar results. Though the name itself indicates that paper, such as parchment, should be used, a pouch of aluminum foil is often just as effective. Pesce al cartoccio can even use both, creating a pocket of parchment, and then wrapping that in foil to prevent leaks or better encase the fish.
Basically meaning “fish in a bag” in Italian, pesce al cartoccio is traditionally prepared using an entire fish of relatively small size. The fish should be thoroughly cleaned and washed inside and out. It can also be deboned or otherwise prepared as necessary for the type of fish chosen. Any fish of about one or two pounds (between 450 and 900 grams) in size should be sufficient. Though a number of different additions can be used, there are some common aromatics and ingredients used in making pesce al cartoccio, such as onions, wine, lemon juice, and rosemary.
These ingredients are placed in a piece of parchment paper that is long enough to hold the entire fish and then folded slightly to create an envelope. The fish is then placed into the envelope as well to create the titular pesce al cartoccio. Though white wine is typically used with the fish, a red wine or other type of flavorful liquid could be used with various results; the chosen ingredients should pair well with the flavor of the fish itself. The parchment is then folded into a pouch that can contain the fish and the other ingredients. The pouch is sealed and placed upon a baking sheet, then placed in a hot oven to bake for about 20 minutes.
Once complete, the pesce al cartoccio is removed from the oven, and the envelope is opened carefully to allow the hot steam to escape. If the parchment piece is not quite large enough to completely envelope the fish, or parchment is not available, then foil can be used to create a pouch and should be sealed to trap in steam during baking. Though traditionally prepared with a whole fish, smaller fillets can often be prepared as pesce al cartoccio, by creating a pocket of parchment with aromatics, seasonings, and some liquid, which is sealed and baked. The pouch can even be opened and placed upon a plate with the fish still inside to create a visually appealing method of serving.