How to cook in parchment paper for super healthy and flavorful chicken and fish.

November 20, 2013

OneHungryMama Cod en Papillote

Babies don’t come with a handbook, but motherhood certainly comes will a million competing ideas of how to “do it right,” especially when it comes to feeding. My “Family Cooking School” series is about helping you master a few basics across my 4 P’s of family cooking—planning, pantry, prepping, and parenting—so that you can become the happy, confident family cook that I know you can be.

Today’s technique is cooking en papillote, a French cooking method that involves baking ingredients in a parchment paper (or aluminum foil) “package.”

Cooking en papillote sounds super fancy, I know, but it turns out to be one of those rare restaurant techniques that is easy to replicate at home. Not only is it simple, but it’s also healthy, low mess, and relatively quick. It’s pretty much a genius family cooking technique, as long as you know how to do it right.

The basic idea is simple: you layer quick cooking protein and/or vegetables on olive oil brushed parchment paper, wrap, and cook. The key is to ensure that you have a tight seal so that a flavorful steam, imbued with all of the flavors whirling around in the package, can gently cook dinner. Here are some pointers on mastering parchment cooking:

  • Use either parchment paper or aluminum foil. Avoid wax paper! Parchment paper is traditional; it puffs up for an elegant presentation and also browns right as the food is finished cooking. Aluminum foil isn’t nearly as presentable, but it is easier to be sure that you’ve gotten a tight seal.
  • Use a piece of parchment or aluminum foil that’s big enough. You want there to be room around the food. At restaurants, dishes are often packaged en papillote in individual portions. You may need to break your family’s dinner into more than one package.
  • Begin by folding a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil in half. Open it up again and brush the entire side facing up with oil, leaving a 3″ border around the perimeter. Add the food to the middle of one half before folding in half again, lining up the edges, and creating a seal with neat, crisp folds.
  • Use foods that cook quickly: chicken breasts, fish fillets, shellfish. Also, consider how long it takes everything in the package to cook. If you’re pairing a fillet of salmon with potatoes, which can take longer to cook, then be sure to cut the potatoes into thin slices. Everything in the package needs to be done in the same cook time.
  • Season foods well since the cooking technique itself doesn’t add flavor. For example, before adding to the parchment paper, toss shrimp with garlic, ginger and hoisin sauce; season chicken breasts with salt and pepper; toss greens with thinly sliced shallots, oil, and soy sauce.
  • Add fresh herbs. If you don’t use them to season the individual ingredients, throw them on top! A subtle flavor will come through.
  • Add a little moisture and/or fat. This is absolutely necessary when working with low moisture ingredients (e.g., carrots). Moisture can be added by including other, high moisture ingredients like spinach, or by drizzling the ingredients with broth, wine, coconut milk or something else that can help create steam and lend flavor. As for fat, a little goes a long way (and keeps from undermining how healthy this can be!): adding a small pat of butter on top before sealing up your package can give a lovely flavor boost.

Check out this recipe for Cod en Papillote from the One Hungry Mama archive. Also, to both get a better sense of how to cook en papillote and have a healthy shortcut ready-to-go in your freezer, look for Bumble Bee SuperFresh in the freezer section of your supermarket.

Bumble Bee SuperFresh on One Hungry Mama

This is one of my favorite new food products for the family kitchen. Each package comes complete with everything you need to cook fish en papillote. The fish is cleaned, cut, seasoned, and fresh frozen in a vacuum seal (similar to the way that Trader Joe’s sells it, for those of you who have a TJ’s nearby). Even the parchment paper is included!

The more important part is that these are all natural. The ingredients list is short and sweet, populated only with ingredients that you can also find in your pantry, and the seafood is sourced from wild fisheries or aquaculture farms that have earned official certification from third-party monitors.

Making your own papillote is great when you prefer chicken or want to control the flavor of your fish, having Bumble Bee SuperFresh on hand is great for when you want a light, healthy, all-natural dinner in 15 minutes with zero prep. Either way, I hope that cooking in parchment becomes a new go-to technique in your kitchen.

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