Cooking En Papillote

Cooking How-To, Featured Article, How-To
on July 17, 2011
Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn

En papillote (ahn pah-pee-YOHT or ahn PAH-peh-loht) describes a cooking method in which foods are enveloped in parchment then placed in a hot oven. The heated package puffs with steam, and foods cook in the moist, circulating air. Its healthy-nutrients can’t leach away, and little if any oil is needed.

And it’s an easy ticket to dinner theatrics: diners are presented with packages torn open to a burst of fragrant steam, revealing a dish sauced in its own juices.

The technique’s origins are obscure, but Jules Alciatore, of New Orleans’ legendary Antoine’s, reportedly created Pompano en Papillote to honor a Brazilian balloonist sometime in the late 1800s. The method recalls ancient preparations-before the invention of baking parchment, nature provided the wrappers. Around the globe, cooks pluck wrappers from gardens. In Indonesia, fish is steamed in banana leaves and in Mexico, tamales are cooked in cornhusks or avocado leaves.

Fish and vegetables are perfect candidates for cooking en papillote. Choose foods that cook in the same time (for example, a fish fillet on top of very thinly sliced potatoes), and include flavor elements like lemon and herbs.

Parchment paper is an ideal medium. Fold a square of parchment in half, cut a heart (á la your grade school Valentine), and arrange food near the fold. Starting at the top, seal the envelope by making small overlapping folds, then twisting at the bottom.

—By Jo Marshall, Creator of Cookcabulary