Cooking en papillote (French for “in paper” and pronounced ahn pah-pee- YOHT) is simply a fancy way of saying “baking in a bag.” The technique involves sealing whatever it is you’re baking in a parchment or foil packet before you bake it. The paper or foil traps the steam from the cooking food, resulting in a moist and juicy finished dish. As the papillotes bake, the steam causes them to puff up and when you cut into them, you are rewarded with a cloud of aromatic steam—the perfect way to bring a little drama to the dinner table.
Papillotes make great dinner-party fare
You can prepare papillotes an hour or two ahead of time, which makes them great to serve if you’re having guests. All you have to do is slide the papillotes into a heated oven and wait for them to puff. There’s no slaving away in the kitchen while your guests enjoy themselves without you.
Papillotes make their own
sauce because the juices released by whatever it is you’re cooking—I usually reserve the technique for fish—mingle with any liquid you may have added (usually wine or broth, or both).
You can construct a complete meal en papillote. First, arrange cooked vegetables in the bag (I’m especially fond of lightly creamed spinach or sliced leeks cooked first in butter), and then place meat, seafood, or poultry on top.
Next, top the food with other ingredients such as herb butter, sautéed mushrooms, or finely sliced truffles, and sprinkle over a little white wine or Madeira before sealing the bag.
Parchment or foil will do the job
Though aluminum foil works fine, kitchen parchment has an advantage because it turns brown in the oven as the food cooks. This helps you know when the food is done, and it’s certainly more attractive than foil. If you decide to use parchment, you can find it in 12-inch wide rolls at the supermarket or in 12x16-inch single sheets from kitchen-supply stores or by mail order. If you’re using a roll of parchment, cut off a sheet about 19 inches long for each papillote. If you’re using pre-cut parchment, just use one whole sheet per papillote. Whatever you do, don’t use waxed.