Cooking en papillote

Imagine being presented with a elegant package for supper. You think how odd until you slit open and peel back the paper to reveal the food. Suddenly your senses are besieged by the wonderful aromas that whoosh out.

Top: Fresh Salmon en papillote on a bed of vegetables. Cooking in parchment paper

Top: Fresh Salmon en papillote on a bed of vegetables. Cooking in parchment paper

Imagine being presented with a elegant package for supper.

You think how odd until you slit open and peel back the paper to reveal the food. Suddenly your senses are besieged by the wonderful aromas that whoosh out.

Now you are thinking, “Wow! What a good idea.”

Well, the French must have thought so too, because years ago they created a technique to do just that when they cooked foods “en papillote.”

En papillote (pah-pee-yoht) is a method of cooking, most specifically a variation of steaming, whereby food is encased in parchment paper and placed in an oven.

Herbs, vegetables, and some kind of fluid, such as a sauce, wine, stock, etc., are included. Thus, the natural juices of the food in conjunction with the added fluids, produce steam which cooks the food within its encapsulated parchment pouch.

The intermingling of the steam and the various ingredients produces a wonderful blend of flavours.

This cooking method is incredibly easy and has the added benefits of being low in fat because it essentially cooks by steaming in its own juices.

Typically, it is most often used to cook fish: With just a little butter or oil for moisture and a few herbs for essence and flavour, it’s a foolproof path to a juicy fillet. But it can also be applied to summer time specials like sweet scallops, corn on the cob, or even in season fruits that need a little something extra to qualify as dessert.

One of the beauties of serving food en papillote is that it’s simply designed to be done in individual portions.

Each is like a “gift” on every plate, with its own little show in the unfolding. This is also a great way to deal with picky eaters.

Everyone receive their own special package with what they like or don’t like .

Steaming en papillote requires no special equipment, other than a roll of parchment paper or foil. Both do the job as long as they’re sealed tightly to prevent steam from escaping. But choose parchment when steaming foods with a salt rub or highly acidic accent, such as vinegar, to avoid discolouration or off odours caused by a chemical reaction with the aluminum.

Having said this, personally I think presenting food in parchment paper brings more elegance to the table.

Parchment paper is relatively delicate but strong enough to enfold anything from ripe blueberries to slabs of halibut with no leaks.

Once it’s coated with a little butter or olive oil, the paper becomes impregnable for cooking but still functional to exchanges of flavour in the heat of the oven.

As the paper puffs, which foil will not do, it creates an intensely concentrated environment for the ingredients to mingle. Tastes like tomato, basil, olive and garlic come together with food more gently but assertively than they would in a sauté pan.

You could haphazardly fold the paper around your food, but there is a suave way of creating your packet. “Papillote” is derived from the word for butterfly, which is a hint as to how you proceed with the shape. You fold a long sheet in half crosswise and scissor out butterfly wings — a piece that looks like half a heart or, when you unfold it, a valentine.

Fold the parchment in half and crimp the edges. I find that simply crimping and tucking as I work my way around works fine. Sometimes it takes an extra fold or two to get the package to hold together. Carefully slide the packet onto a baking sheet. If you’re making this ahead of time, put it in the refrigerator until time to cook.

When creating your individual packages, anything goes. You can include any meat, vegetables and fruits into parchment: chicken breasts, salmon steaks, shrimp; mushrooms, zucchini, peas; peaches or apricots or even rhubarb to name a few.

Be creative and chose flavours you enjoy but make sure to size vegetables accordingly.

If you like carrots use baby carrots or julienne regular carrots so they cook quicker along with tougher vegetables. Par boil potatoes and slice into 1/4 inch pieces. Seasoning is also a key because the flavours are relatively delicate; salt and pepper are not to be forgotten.

Carefully place the packets on plates and serve. Your guests will tear open the packet to release a wonderfully aromatic steam and find everything inside is cooked just right with flavours that are distinct.

Salmon en papillote

1 ea 5 – 6 oz salmon fillet section

4-5 parboiled baby potatoes, cut in half

Chopped fresh fennel

1/4 teaspoon basil

Thinly sliced carrots

1 1/2 tbsp butter

1 Tablespoon olive oil

10 – 12 snow peas

1/2 ea lemon

salt

ground pepper

Heat oven to 425 F. Prepare parchment.

Cook potato slices in boiling water, seasoned with salt, until tender. Add potatoes, fennel, snow peas, carrots and basil together in a bowl. Mix in olive oil, salt, and zest of 1/2 lemon.

Place the vegetable mixture on parchment paper. Top with Salmon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dot fish with butter. Place thin lemon slices on top of fish. Seal parchment envelope

Place bundle on a baking sheet and cook for 12-15 minutes (varies with the size of your fillet). Serves 1.

Summer fruit en papillote

4 tablespoons melted butter plus extra for the parchment

4 medium peaches or 6 apricots, ripe but firm and sliced

1 cup blueberries

4 tablespoons light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

Ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

Heat the oven to 450F. Cut 4 sheets of baking parchment into 15- by 12-inch pieces. Fold each in half and cut into the shape of half a heart. Unfold to reveal a whole heart and brush butter onto one side of each sheet along the fold in the middle where the fruit will be placed.

Set aside. Combine the remaining butter, the peaches or apricots, blueberries, sugar, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and ginger in bowl and toss to mix well.

Divide the fruit mixture among the four parchment hearts, placing fruit along the fold on one side of the heart. Fold the sheets over and crimp the edges tightly to seal completely. Lay the packets on a baking sheet. Bake until the parchment packets puff up and the fruit gives off juices, about 10 minutes. Transfer each packet to a plate and slit open with a sharp knife. Top with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer College has been working towards obtaining university status for a couple of years. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer College expects to become polytechnic institution, not a university

Red Deer College does not expect to become a university after all.… Continue reading

Maskwacis RCMP are investigating an attempted murder and kidnapping. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Maskwacis RCMP are investigating an attempted murder and kidnapping. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta man charged with attempted murder

Suspect caught after fleeing from RCMP

Skylar Roth-MacDonald will run from Calgary to Red Deer this weekend as part of Project 24, a virtual charity. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer native will run from Calgary to hometown this weekend

Skylar Roth-MacDonald gearing up to run across Canada this summer to raise mental health awareness

NDP Energy Critic Kathleen Ganley said Friday that the party plans to file a emergency motion for the UCP to release all documents pertaining to the Keystone XL Pipeline. (Screenshot courtesy of Red Deer Advocate)
NDP urges UCP to release all financial documents related to Keystone XL Pipeline

The Alberta NDP is lobbying the UCP to release documents surrounding the… Continue reading

Since last May, 94 crime reports were made online by Red Deer residents. (Black Press file photo)
Online crime reporting an underutilized option

Making it easier to report crime

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

There are two confirmed COVID-19 cases at Red Deer College. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Central Albertans were promised a university

Central Albertans were promised a university

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

Canada’s 29th Governor General Julie Payette looks on alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Senate chamber during her installation ceremony, in Ottawa on Monday, October 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says viceregal vetting process needs improvement after Payette resigns

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his Liberal government will look… Continue reading

A digital Intensive care unit room at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital in Vaughan, Ont., on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are down slightly in Ontario and Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario and Quebec report decreasing numbers of people in hospital with COVID-19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging people not to travel as Canada’s… Continue reading

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, October 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces plan for mass vaccination campaign starting in April

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s oldest residents will be able to pre-register for… Continue reading

Two families walk up to a COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Rapid COVID-19 tests important to reopening safely: business group

OTTAWA — A group of large businesses in Banff National Park is… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference, in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
New advocacy group launches pre-election ad campaign against O’Toole, Conservatives

OTTAWA — A new third-party advocacy group is launching an ad campaign… Continue reading

Jacqueline Donahue of Hazleton, right, buys la Mega Millions lottery ticket at the Anthracite Newsstand on Public Square, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Mark Moran/The Citizens’ Voice via AP)
Nearly $1B Mega Millions prize due to long odds, slow sales

Only the third time a lottery jackpot has grown so large

Most Read