Cooking En Papillote

When I was a young Girl Scout and we went camping, we used to prepare a dish that sounds disgusting but was really one of the best things to eat under the stars. In a square of aluminum foil, we would put hamburger, sliced potatoes, sliced onions, sliced carrots and I don’t remember what all else. Wrap it all up and put it on a rack over the fire to cook. The finished result was steamed vegetables bathed in hamburger juices. Yum.

I guess this was a rudimentary version of the French technique of cooking en papillote, which means “in parchment.” Traditionally, parchment paper is used to wrap up the goodies, but aluminum foil still works just as well. Cooking en papillote is a particularly healthful technique that still packs a lot of flavor, because it requires very little fat and seals the moisture in to dry foods like fish and chicken.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lay out a square of aluminum foil. For the first layer prepare a bed of vegetables, sliced thinly, julienned or matchsticked. Carrots, onions and potatoes still work well, but so does zucchini, asparagus, snow peas and other vegetables that take well to steaming. On top of that, lay a chicken cutlet, thin fish fillet or a few large scallops.

Now, drizzle over everything a small amount of liquid to provide flavor and help with the steaming. Usually, I use ½ tbsp. olive oil and 1-2 tsp. vinegar or citrus juice. But other liquids may be used, so feel free to experiment. Season with fresh herbs, salt, pepper and whatever else you like. Check the pantry — a few capers, olives or sun-dried tomatoes might be tasty on top.

Fold in the sides of the foil square to seal. Fold over the remaining two sides and roll down, then pull up a little to create something of a “tent” where the steam can circulate. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10-20 minutes, until the meat is cooked through, rotating the packets halfway during the cooking time. Obviously, fish and scallops will require a lot less time than chicken. Unwrap and serve. French cooking at its simplest.

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9 thoughts on “Cooking En Papillote

  1. eggplant 13 November 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Ah, nostalgia. If memory serves, the version my girl scout troupe made in foil included rice (and, dare I say, canned mushroom soup). I love your updated suggestions. Now that I think about it, when I wrap potatoes, onions, herbs, cheese, etc. in foil and throw it on the grill or in the oven, it’s a similar technique.

    I’ve enjoyed traditional en papillotes at restaurants and have baked a pre-prepared fish and veggie version from my favorite local fish store at home, all of which were fantastic. I’ve been wanting to try to make a “real” one in parchment paper at home. I also think it would be a hoot to make this “en papillote” recipe in a lunch bag for a dinner party sometime. (I would love to see the look on my guests’ faces if I served them a platter of brown bags instead of my usual more colorful presentations.)

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_34543,00.html

  2. Suzanne 15 November 2006 at 11:14 am

    I totally remember that from Girl Scouts. I still make them to this day at home – with a bit more pazzazz of course. Great suggestions!

  3. jenny bean 26 November 2006 at 3:51 pm

    We called these ‘Hobo dinners’ and we actually placed them directly on the bed of red glowing embers to cook them (doubled the foil to prevent burning of course). I still love these and make them in the oven and the BBQ quite often.

  4. JohnDopp 11 March 2007 at 5:10 am

    En papillote cooking is wonderful! Works great with beef, chicken, pork, fish, you name it.

    Parchment paper (aka baking paper) is best, but heavy aluminum foil can be used instead. Just remember that if you use acidic sauces, they’ll react poorly with the aluminum foil (think of the black residue that forms when you wrap a ketchup-heavy meatloaf in foil).

    Alton Brown’s show “Good Eats” had a segment on pouch cooking, and they offered a great mix-and-match chart… just grab one or more items from each section, layer it in your foil or paper pouch, and cook for 10-15 minutes. Mmmmm!

    MEATS
    Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, shrimp

    VEGETABLES
    Mushrooms, artichoke, tomato, peppers, snow peas, broccoli, bok choy

    STARCHES (optional)
    Rice, noodles, potatoes, cous cous, dumplings

    AROMATICS
    Onion, garlic, scallions, shallots, celery, carrots, fennel

    SEASONING
    Red pepper, white pepper, pepper, salt, honey, lemon, parsley, coriander, basil, cilantro

    LIQUIDS (optional)
    Soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), chicken broth, vegetable broth, sesame oil, white wine, red wine, vermouth

  5. JohnDopp 11 March 2007 at 5:15 am

    Whup! Almost forgot… Cook ’em at 400 degrees, and be sure to leave a small steam vent in the pouch, or they’ll explode. =)

  6. shannonoz 11 March 2007 at 8:48 am

    Great suggestions. I haven’t had a problem with using a small amount of citrus juice, but the aluminum foil reaction is something to consider. If you are using parchment paper, it probably is better to cook at a lower temperature.

  7. Scott 25 January 2008 at 6:19 pm

    Well, no. Parchment paper is coated in silicone, which is able to withstand temperatures up to, I believe 600 degrees(F). If you were using WAX paper, that’s another story. Wax paper will burn at a pretty low temperature.

  8. Curtis 28 April 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Yes, We cooked these in the Boy Scouts as well. We called them Hambos or Spambos depending on whether we did ground beef or spam…. LOL… yes, spam. I also saw the Alton Brown Pouch Principle episode and it made me think of cooking these in the embers of the fire in the scouts. Thanks so much for the chart. I never wrote it down and was wishing that I had.

  9. TARUS KIPNG'ETICH 19 January 2011 at 5:59 am

    Here in africa, we use we cook en papillote with animal skin as the parchment then cook it in hot ash . huge chunks of aromatic vegetables are enclosed in the animal skin before cooking the resulting product will force you to turn your visitors at the gate. funny….

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