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.