En Papillote: Cooking in Packets

I am quite fascinated these days by what the French call “cooking en papillote”.  “En Papillote”is basically just a fancy term for steaming small (often individual portions) of food in a wrapper in the oven.  The wrappers I regularly use are parchment paper or foil.  If available and you are going for an Asian flair, banana leaves work well.  This method of cooking is low-fat (good for those New Year’s resolutions) and the food retains most of it’s nutrition.  Cleaning up is also easy since hardly anything gets dirty, not even the plate you eat on. 🙂

Little kids can help assemble their own packets with things they like.  The presentation is impressive.  The packets come out of the oven and when you cut the tops open, the steam escapes and you are left with a one-plate, steaming, moist and delicious meal.  A favorite at our home is fish on a bed of vegetables (shredded carrots, zucchini and peppers) and sliced fried potatoes, topped with a Lemon and Shallot Vinaigrette.  Depending on the size and thickness of the fish, I bake for about 15 minutes in a 400F oven.

Tips from Cooking Light on Cooking En Papillote

  • Choose the right foods. Cooking en papillote works best with tender foods that cook quickly (for example, chicken breasts instead of legs or moist, flaky fish like salmon rather than dense fish steaks). Shellfish also work well, as do vegetables with high moisture content like onions, zucchini, or bell pepper.
  • Mind the size. Consider the amount of time it will take for the main ingredient to cook, and cut the accompanying items into sizes that will cook in the same amount of time. If you’re preparing a tender fish fillet with potatoes, for instance, you’ll need to slice the potatoes thinly so everything will be done at once. Otherwise, you’ll end up with undercooked potatoes or overcooked fish.
  • Add moisture. If a food does not have a lot of moisture in it (like carrots or parsnips), add other foods with high moisture content (like spinach or tomatoes) or a splash of liquid to create steam within the packet.
  • Add flavor. The ingredients in the packet will bring flavors of their own, but you can also add fresh or dried herbs, salt, pepper, and other spices, and liquids like wine, broth, coconut milk, or lime juice. Also consider a pat of herbed butter or a drizzle of cream; because no fat is required to cook en papillote, a little fat―about 1 to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons per packet―goes a long way to build flavor.

Here are some recipes we love that use this method of cooking.  Once you get used to it, you will be inventing your own versions in no time.  This is an easy and quick meal idea for days when you are stuck since you can raid your fridge and pantry and make just about anything work.

Steamed Asian Sea Bass in the Bag

Seabass with Leeks and Beans in a Bag – love this one, the cannellini beans are divine

Baked Carrots in a Bag  – can be used on a variety of vegetables.  Nice one to get creative with.

Chicken Breast Baked in a Bag

Italian Fish and Vege Pockets

Lemony Halibut en Papillotes with Leek Rice Pilaf – anything on a bed of rice, we love

Soy and Ginger Shrimp en Papillote – Yum!

Do share your favorites or ideas if you have any!

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