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Steam Heat: Cooking “en Papillote”

by Cheryl Forberg, RD on April 25, 2011

Cooking “en papillote” (French for “in parchment”) can be a tasty and surprisingly easy-to-master cooking method. In fact, if you haven’t tried it before you may come to view it as both a convenience and a real treat.

En papillate involves sealing your ingredients in a parchment paper or foil packet, which traps both steam and flavor inside. The packets can be assembled a few hours ahead of time and popped in the oven just before dinner.

The assembled parcel seals in the heat, roasting the ingredients in their own juices and infusing them with any added herbs and spices, making for moist and flavorful dishes. The intensification of flavors means you won’t need to add any high-calorie extra, leading to a light healthy meal that’s both delicious and visually appealing.

Methods vary slightly from recipe-to-recipe (and you can, of course, get quite fancy about your preparation) but the basic concept of cooking with steam in paper remains the same.

Seafood is the “en papillote” standby, and salmon or lighter white fish are the classic options, cooking up as succulent as can be with minimal fuss. Generally the fish is surrounded with a selection of fresh vegetables (either sliced very thin so they cook as quickly the fish or pre-cooked in a skillet) and herbs and spices. Thin lemon slices can add zing to some white fish, as well.

The ingredients are wrapped in the parchment with just a teaspoon or two of olive oil and a small amount of liquid to create the steam (you’ll want to make sure the packets aren’t over-filled and there is enough room for air to move around), the ends sealed tight by twisting or folding, and the individual packages baked in a 350°-400° oven for anywhere between 10-25 minutes depending on prep and ingredients.

The final result, with the ever-so-slightly charred parchment parcels slit to reveal their contents makes for a fun a steamy presentation.

Try the Salmon en Papillote with Tomatoes and Fennel from Flavor First for a delicious low-fat version where cherry or grape tomatoes provide the liquid for the steaming.

You can find parchment at most major supermarkets (usually in the same section as aluminum foil or wax paper), or online outlets such as Bob’s Red Mill. In a pinch, aluminum foil works just fine, too.