How to Cook En Papillote
November, 2015 · By Coryanne Ettiene
The French call it “en papillote”. It is the process of cooking anything in a parchment paper parcel. En papillote is the sort of cooking method you would find presented to you a restaurant, but really, as a home cook, it makes cooking mid week a delight. Less clean up, more flavor and simple ingredients means that leaning how to cook en papillote is just as important for someone who cooks for one, as for twenty. While the food cooked en papillate is brilliantly aromatic because it is essentially steamed within the packed, and cooked in the sauce produced by the ingredients in the packet, the very nature of this cooking method is to wrap it up, toss it in the oven, walk away and return to food so brilliant you will embrace it as your new approach to cooking…. everything. I know because I’ve gone through the cycle, have come out the other side and am now living to tell the tale. Last year I we produced this video for AOL on cooking en papillote with Xander; all I did was sit back and watch, you can do the same to see how simple it is, click here to watch.
When I first learned to cook en papillote, I was taught by a French neighbor in London. She was feisty, dramatic and fabulous, and I loved her all the more for her approach to cooking, “just cut the paper into a heart, cook with love Coryanne“…. “Who cares how big the heart should be, use your gut, you can always cut it to fit. Like the boy I used to know, if you cannot fill the heart, cut the heart to fit the love….you have to feel when they are ready, only you will know when it is time” and so would be our lesson, brief, to the point and never really clear on if we were talking about cooking or life, but now I see that the two are always related.
Quick tips on how to cook en papillote
- Use a heart or oval shape, it allows for easier folding and fits better on a plate once served than a rectangle. When in doubt start big, small shapes are impossible to fold and never result in a great meal.
- Fold the shape of the parcel in half before cutting, and press down to create a firm crease down he middle of the shape. This crease will act as your cooking ‘wall’.
- Place your ingredients on the bottom half of the crease, leaving a 1/2 inch border along the sides of the parchment paper. Then fold over along the crease so that the paper forms a wrap atop the ingredients.
- Start on one side along the crease by folding the parchment into itself in tight creases along the edge until you reach the other side, and find yourself at the center fold. Once at the fold, tuck in the final crease and press down along the edges to ensure that there are no loose creases. As you get better at creasing the sides, you can do what I do, and fold them at the same time and meet in the middle — I think this step saves me around 5 seconds, but it makes me feel like a French rock star.
- The hard part is knowing when the food is cooked properly. Everything depends on your oven, your cut of ingredients, and how big your parcels are. There is no easy answer, you have to feel your way through this because the parchment is not transparent, and once you break the seal, you can’t go back. The best approach is to make a tester packet, that you can test for doneness. If the parcel is sealed tightly, it will puff up with steam and the edges will be slightly browned. When you get to that point, remove the tester, pierce the tester packet and allow the steam to escape, then test for doneness. If it is done, remove the others, if not, give them more time.
- Be patient. This is both an incredibly easy and terribly hard cooking process. Easy because there is no effort, hard because you need to know your cooking temperatures and times. Time and practice will get you there, and once you do, cooking will never be the same again.
Once you have mastered how to cook en papillote, you can dazzle your dinner party guests with plated parcels ready to be pierced at the table, or you can toss the contents of each parcel into a bowl and serve family style. Both are equally fabulous and unmistakably delicious. I’ve been known to cook whole dinners in a parcel — chicken breast and potatoes with herbs, or even whole puddings — stone fruits, crumble toping and spices. There are no hard fast rules, so tie on that apron and have some fun.