Oregon Redtail Surfperch Baked en Papillote with Basil and Red Bell Pepper

| September 13, 2010 | 1 Comment

I’m convinced that the fishing gods are toying with me. Off and on for most of a year now, every chance I get I’ve headed to the coast with my surf rod and clam necks and sand shrimp for bait in search of the elusive redtail surfperch…and I’ve been skunked every time. 

Then recently, Mom and I went shopping at Uwajimaya in Beaverton, Oregon, a Portland suburb, and while roaming the seafood aisle, guess what I spot staring at me from the fish case, all smiles as if they’re mocking me. Yup. Redtail surfperch. So I walk over to the fishmonger and ask which waters these glistening creatures came from. “Southern Oregon,” he says. OK. OK. So I haven’t made it that far south yet. 

I’ve heard about the wonderfully sweet and delicate flavor of this fish. It’s what has inspired all those fruitless fishing trips to sandy beaches, wandering them mile after mile, casting time after time as the waves swallow my feet and ankles in the protective shield of insulated waders. A fishing buddy from work has caught them in Southern Oregon before and he advised me to look for spots where the gently sloping beach abruptly sinks into the ocean — sinkholes, as he calls them. It’s no wonder serious surf fisherman wander the beaches at low tide to study the geography of the sandy shores. I guess they’re looking for those sinkholes. When they find them, they tend to keep those spots to themselves. And because the ocean’s alive and in a constant flux, storms or rough seas can change the geography of the sandy beaches, filling in some sinkholes and creating others. 

I think this is one of those pastimes that lends itself to retirement, when you have a lot of free time on your hands to roam the beaches. 

Go figure that I could just as well have called Uwajimaya to see if they had any. 

Needless to say, I purchased a two-pound surfperch from the fishmonger and had him gut and scale the fish for me. As he was doing that, I couldn’t resist snapping a photo with my iPhone of all those smiling, glistening fish staring up at me. 

Redtail surfperch beautifully arranged in the fish case.


When Mom caught up with me and asked how I was going to fix the fish for dinner, I explained in Thai (her native tongue) that I was going to wrap it in paper and bake it. She didn’t understand. So when I got home, I enlisted her help in preparing the dish so that I could document the technique of cooking en papillote for you, and so she could see for herself. 

Cooking foods en papillote a time-honored French technique. By encasing the food in parchment paper, you seal in the moisture and also capture the flavors from any aromatic herbs or vegetables that you include to infuse the food

Usually whenever I cook fish or poultry en papillote , I will add fresh or dried herbs, aromatic vegetables, seasoning, oil and a little white wine or dry sherry. So for the surfperch, I decided on shallots, basil from our herb garden, red bell peppers, pepper and some garlic seasoning, and a splash of King Estate Pinot Gris that we had left over in the fridge. For a side dish, I opted for simplicity — steamed jasmine rice — so that we could really enjoy the flavor of the fish. 

Another benefit of cooking en papillote is that it is easy, and cleanup is a snap. 

So with Mom’s help, we arranged the ingredients on the parchment paper and sealed the package. I walked her through it step by step as I told her to pause along the way while I snapped photos to document the technique for you. 

When the parchment package finally came out of the oven, everyone gathered for the opening and we were all treated to an incredible aroma as I pierced the paper and peeled it back, and the steam escaped and filled our kitchen with the sweet smell of basil, bell pepper and ocean spray. 

Needless to say, we picked the fish clean off the bone at the dinner table. Next time, I’ll forget the fishing gear and call Uwajimaya. 

Redtail surfperch baked en papillote with basil and bell peppers.


Oregon Surfperch Baked en Papillote  with Basil and Red Bell Pepper

Serves 3  


  1. 1 large red bell pepper, sliced
  2. 1 medium-sized shallot sliced into thin pieces
  3. 1 bunch basil, about 1 cup (240 ml.), rinsed and leaves removed from stems (set aside some of the stems)
  4. A 2-3 pound (908-1362 g.) surfperch (or substitute other firm white fish like red snapper or sea bass), whole, gutted and scaled
  5. 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) olive oil
  6. 2 teaspoons (10 ml.) freshly ground black pepper
  7. 2 teaspoons (10 ml.) garlic salt
  8. 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) dry white wine or dry sherry


  • Preheat oven to 425 ºF (220 °C).
  • Cut a piece of parchment paper two-and-a-half times longer than the length of the fish and lay it on your countertop or large butcher block.
  • Fold the parchment in half length-wise and then flatten it out again.
  • On the parchment, to the right side of the fold, place half of the red pepper, shallot and basil leaves.
  • Pat the fish dry and place in a dish, rub each side with some of the olive oil, then sprinkle the black pepper and garlic salt on each side.
  • Place the fish on top of the pepper and herbs on the parchment paper and cover the fish with the remaining pieces of pepper, shallot and basil. Stuff some of the basil stems into the stomach cavity of the fish.
  • Sprinkle the white wine or sherry on top of the fish and fold the parchment paper over the fish.
  • Beginning at the bottom left, where the fold of the parchment paper is, fold the paper up at an angle and crease the fold so that it holds its shape. Continue folding in the same direction towards the tail of the fish, bringing the paper up with smaller and smaller angles so that the parchment paper seals itself. Continue folding all the way around the fish until you’ve come back to its head and the top of the parchment package, and tuck the last fold under the package to keep it in place. (See step-by-step photos that follow.)
  • Position a baking rack in the middle of the oven. Cover a baking pan with aluminum foil and place the parchment package on the baking pan and into the oven.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven, carefully cut open parchment and arrange whole fish along with the cooked herbs and bell peppers onto a serving platter and serve.

Arrange half of the chopped bell pepper, shallot and basil leaves on the parchment.


Place seasoned fish on top of the bell pepper and herbs and then cover the fish with the remaining bell pepper and herbs. Stuff some of the basil stems into the stomach cavity of the fish, then sprinkle the dry white wine or sherry on top of the fish.


Fold the parchment paper over the fish and, beginning at the bottom left-hand corner, fold a triangle portion of the paper towards the top at an angle, then continue in the same direction folding smaller and smaller triangles of paper over on top of itself so that the paper forms a seal with the folds.


Keep folding small triangles all the way around the tail and work your way to the top where the head of the fish is.


Tuck the end of the final fold underneath the package so the weight of the fish holds the end of the paper down and retains the seal.


The finished parchment package is ready to be placed on a foil-lined baking pan and into the oven.


After 30 minutes, remove the parchment package from the oven.


Using kitchen scissors, carefully cut open the parchment package.


Peel back the parchment and gently remove whole fish to a serving platter, along with the herbs and bell peppers.



— Vic

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Category: Seafood

About the Author (Author Profile)

Victor Panichkul is a journalist and writer by training; a cook, wine lover and photographer by passion; and a lover of the outdoors since moving to Oregon more than 10 years ago. He is a native of Bangkok, Thailand.

Comments (1)

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  1. jake says:

    i catch surfperch all the time along tillamook and seaside beaches

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