A Package from Italy

While I did receive my kilo of Italian Pernigotti cocoa this week from ChefShop.com, the package of which I write today is a culinary preparation.  Salmone al Cartoccio.  According to my Italian-English dictionary, 'cartoccio' means 'paper bag' or, in a culinary usage, 'aluminum foil.'  I venture to guess that when recipes were created 'al cartoccio' for the first time, aluminum foil was not an option and paper was.

So I will be making the recipe using parchment paper, although it is equally as good with aluminum foil.  The only downside to the foil is that it does NOT make for an elegant presentation at the table.  There is something tactile and romantic about opening a paper package in front of you, whether is is a book to be read, a necklace to be worn or a meal to be shared.  It is fun to be surprised at what you see, smell and taste.  The plus side for aluminum foil is the "do ahead" factor.

There are two very common ways in which Italians serve food 'al cartoccio' - pasta and fish. For the former, the pasta is pre-cooked, sauced and then wrapped in parchment, baked and served at the table. Fish, on the other hand, is wrapped up raw - with its flavorings and some liquid - then baked and served. Fish benefits significantly from this method of cooking, emerging from its sealed cloak very moist and tender, and infused beautifully with flavor.

I originally came across this recipe online - an Italian cooking site that no longer exists. A simple recipe to start, I have simplified it yet further to make one of the easiest and simultaneously most elegant dishes you can serve - even on a weeknight!

A couple of notes... If you use Pacific wild salmon, the cooking time should be 12 minutes or less. Being more lean, it dries out much faster than Atlantic salmon.

Today, as I prepared this for the post, I was unable to find thin-skinned oranges due to the severe weather across the country this past winter. I used standard - but juicy - navel oranges and made sure they were sliced very thinly. It worked just fine.

Also, while we are speaking of the oranges, many people choose to leave the oranges on their plates or in the parchment. For me, that is a mistake. If you slice them thinly enough, they soften beautifully and become a sort of marmalade under the salmon. A small piece of orange with each bite of salmon makes for a great flavor combination, especially with the almonds and cumin on top.

Mark and I always refer to this as 'Sicilian salmon,' not because it was called that in its original form but because the combination of ingredients and flavors simply says 'Sicily' to us both. When we make this for ourselves, we will often use aluminum foil because the clean up is easy. But serving it in parchment makes it very special.

Buon appetito!

- David

Salmone al cartoccio

8 oval pieces of parchment, approximately 9-inches by 15-inches*
2 thin-skinned oranges
4 6-ounce salmon fillets, skinless, from the thick end
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 small shallot, peeled and quartered
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves only
2 tablespoons sultana raisins (golden raisins)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
pinch cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

* alternately, you can use four 12-inch by 15-inch sheets of aluminum foil **

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash both oranges well. Cut 12 1/8-inch thick slices from the center of one of the oranges and reserve. Using a microplane or other fine grater, zest the other orange completely, reserving the zest. Cut that orange in half and squeeze all the juice from it (and any from the ends of the other orange) into a bowl; reserve.

Place 4 ovals of parchment on your work surface; these will be the base of your packages. Overlap three orange slices on each piece of parchment as a bed for the salmon. Place fillets, skinned-side down, on the oranges.

Place the almonds, shallot, parsley, reserved orange zest, sultana raisins, cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves, salt and freshly ground black pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Process with on/off pulses until mixture forms a coarse crumb texture. Do not puree it, as you will lose the distinct bursts of flavor - sultana raisins, almonds and cumin seeds - that make this dish so special.

Divide the topping among the four salmon fillets and press it gently into the flesh. Drizzle each fillet with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, then 1-2 tablespoons of the reserved orange juice.

Top with the remaining four sheets of parchment and begin to crimp the edges by folding them over 2 or 3 times to create a seal. Continue folding around the edges, each time folding some of the previous fold into the new fold (this will help keep the previous folds in place) until you are back to the beginning. (As shown in photos) Place finished packets on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (12 minutes for Pacific wild salmon).

To serve, place packets on plates with minimal or no decorations. If you wish to garnish with fresh parsley, it can be passed separately in a small bowl. Packages may be opened with a sharp knife, scissors or, quite simply, the tops may be unfolded and lifted off. Vegetables and other accompaniments should be served on a side plate.

** If you are making this in advance (perhaps one or two hours), I do recommend using aluminum foil as the parchment will get soggy. Lightly oil the center before placing orange slices. When finished preparing the salmon, fold packets up (as shown below) and refrigerate them until you are ready to roast. In this case, once cooked, I would open the packets and remove the fish to a serving plate with a long spatula, drizzling any remaining juices on top.


  1. David, Tonight we made this dish and it was fabulous! We used Atlantic Salmon, left the oranges under the salmon on the individual plates, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal: salmone al cartocci, quinoa, and arugula salad. Our wine complemented the meal well. It was Italian: Cannonau di Sardegna. We were celebrating my husband's new job and the meal definitely lived up to the occasion! (We took photos if your site allows their inclusion!) Many thanks for all your wonderful ideas!

  2. What wonderful news, Susan! Thanks so much for sharing and for using the salmone as your vehicle for celebration! I don't know that wine but I will look for it!

  3. David this sounds delicious and looks gorgeous-- can't wait to try it!

  4. Thanks, Jim! I think you will enjoy it a lot.

  5. Uh oh.....I just made the salmon ahead of time in parchment paper! Is that going to get soaked and eventually leak while in the fridge? This should teach me a lesson to read the whole recipe and notes thoroughly!

  6. It may still be okay - just a little soggy on the bottom. And I suppose it all depends on the parchment paper. I am sure it will cook fine, but you may have to adjust in the presentation! Good luck, and let me know how it comes out.


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