Sea bream en papillote

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Wondering how to prepare for your next dinner party? Danny aka Food Urchin shares secrets to success along with a delicious three course menu for less than £229 (which you could save by switching to First Utility). Discover how you could potentially save on washing up too with a novel way of serving his main course.

First published in 2015

Whenever I read anything about dinner parties, as in advice for planning, preparing and hosting one, there always seems to be an emphasis on keeping everything stress-free, easy and smooth. Which is sound advice. After all, you don’t want to be still juggling with sodium alginate, making spherical pops of carrot and ginger caviar as your guests walk through the door. You don’t want to be suddenly tackling ten feet high flames, just because you thought that a demonstration of your flambé skills would be impressive. And you definitely don’t want people to come wandering into the kitchen, because you went missing for a period of 45 minutes; only for them to find you weeping gently on the floor, with a tray of shrunken, flaccid soufflés sat in your lap.

Yes, if there ever was an acronym to use when it comes to hosting dinner parties, it would have to be K.I.S.S. Or ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid'.

However, saying that, given the pressure those two magic words seem to conjure up in people’s minds, I think a better course of action is to simply make things fun and focus purely on having a good time. A wise man once gave me this gem to dining success at a wine and food pairing event, which went along the lines of: “This is all nonsense this pairing business. Whenever friends or family invite you over for a meal, do you ever think for a second about what food is going to be served, and what wine to take with you? Have you ever called ahead to find out what is on the menu? No, normally you just pick a bottle from the off-licence, rock up, unplug the cork, enjoy the food and enjoy the company.”

I really liked that message and I think all dinner parties should be based upon that very sentiment. As a host and cook, if you can enjoy yourself, your guests will enjoy themselves and then everything will be OK. If things go wrong, they go wrong, it won’t be the end of the world. Even if you are hosting a fairly formal dinner party, where bosses attend or there is a bit of match-making going on, at least you’ll be giving them something to talk about on the way home. But who has those sort of dinner parties anyway? They only exist in Richard Curtis films.

So whenever I hold a dinner party, I always try to go for the K.I.S.S approach, to help steady the ship and then add in an element of devil may care afterwards. In fact, if I were to hold one soon, the menu would look a little bit like this:


Essex asparagus with brown shrimp and burnt butter


Sea Bream en papillote, with new potatoes, spring vegetables and sorrel


Elderflower panna cotta with gooseberry compote

Now, I know what you are thinking - “Hmm, nice looking menu Dan, all light and seasonal…..but where is the danger? Where is this sense of fun coming from?”

Well, the secret would be to buy in some cheap old plates, for serving up the main event of fish baked in paper. Not only is this classic technique fuss-free and straightforward, you can present all the food still contained within the baking parchment if you like. Saying that, the technique of wrapping in paper and folding over can be tricky, so to make sure that there is no leakage, it is not a bad idea to use a layer of foil too.

Anyway, after polishing off the fillets of tender bream and veg, all doused in a buttery wine sauce; once left with crumpled foil and paper on their crockery, your guests are more than likely to comment on your smug efficiency with saving on the washing up.

“OK, what do you want us to do with your clean plates then?” they might just say.

And with that, you pick your plate up, toss it into the corner of the room and as it shatters, pronounce that you are not doing any washing up, and see if the others follow. If they do, hey, you’ve already set up one hell of a memorable dinner party right there haven’t you.

One thing we shouldn’t forget of course, is to factor in a sensible budget when planning a menu. The one above, which is largely pescetarian and vegetarian, should come in at £10 a head. For a more thorough breakdown though and after looking at recent prices in the supermarkets, the costs for each course would be as follows:

Starter - £19.91

Mains - £44.49

Dessert - £10.53

That actually comes to £74.93 or £9.37 a head, which leaves more than enough for buying in some wine. And a generous host always supplies the booze. Not that you should discourage people bringing gifts, oh no. But still, say that we go for a decent bottle per person; with perhaps a cheeky offering of something fizzy to kick things off, I’ve figured out that the final bill would come in at around the £200 mark.

With perhaps a little bit more for the plates.





First of all you need to part-cook your potatoes, carrots and celery, which will finish cooking in the oven. The purple sprouting broccoli can go straight into paper and foil bag though and will cook through in the given time. So place your potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil on the hob and then gently simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and then leave to one side
Melt 50gms of butter in another saucepan on the hob and then add the carrot and celery and cook over a medium heat for 10 - 12 minutes until just soft and then season with salt and pepper
Make your parcels by tearing off 8 sheets of baking paper and 8 sheets of foil about 37cms square. Place the foil on top of the baking paper and begin to add your ingredients by spooning even quantities of carrot and celery in the middle. You may want to do this part, 4 sheets at a time, depending on space. Add to the vegetables a sprinkling of garlic, thyme leaves and dot some extra butter on. Then take two sea bream fillets, season generously and place a bay leaf on one.
Sandwich them together so that the skin faces out and lay the fillets on top of the carrot and celery. Place the remaining vegetables around the outside, ie the potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli. Then fold up the foil, edge to edge and crimp to begin to seal, leaving a gap a one end. Pour in about 75mls of the wine and then seal completely
Then wrap the paper around, again bringing the edges together and starting at one end, fold over 1 cm of the edge, doing about 4 cm at a time, working all the way around to form a semicircle. Preheat the oven to 220C and when ready, place the parcels on a baking sheet and pop inside. You should be able to fit four parcels onto each baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes
When ready, quickly serve the parcels onto warmed (but cheap) plates and ask your guests to cut them open and pass around a bowl with the chopped sorrel to sprinkle on top, for a grassy, citrus kick at the end. However, if you can’t find sorrel, you could always use slices of lemon

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

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