It’s in the paper
Preparing foods ‘en papillote’ seals in flavours and moisture
Imagine how tasty it would be if you could seal away a preferred main-ingredient with irresistible flavourings in one neat package and quickly bake it to a delicious conclusion. Well, the French must have thought that was a good idea, because years ago they created a technique to do just that when they began cooking foods “en papillote.”
According to the New Food Lover’s Companion, the word “papillote” has two culinary meanings. The book says it is the French word for a paper frill used to decorate the tips of rib bones, such as you’ll sometimes see on a crown roast of pork. Put “en” in front of papillote, and the meaning changes to denote food sealed inside an envelope of paper and baked.
In Jacques Pepin’s classic book, La Technique, he says that in the old days, French cooks would cut and use brown paper bags to cook foods “en papillote,” before proceeding to show in a series of photos how to more safely use parchment paper, a relatively new product at the time.
Parchment paper, which is now sold in rolls at most supermarkets, is a heavy, grease- and moisture-resistant, siliconebased paper that in her bestselling book, In the Sweet Kitchen, Regan Daley describes as a “baker’s secret” in itself. She says it has seemingly endless uses including lining cake tins, brownie pans and cookie sheets, ensuring food does not stick and comes out neat and clean.
According to the Reynolds company website, parchment paper is also ovenproof to 450F (230C), which makes it ideal for cooking foods “en papillote.”
Some home cooks believe parchment paper and wax — or waxed — paper are one and the same. But wax paper is quite different, and is coated with a thin layer of wax, which makes it moisture-proof and can help prevent foods from sticking; good for sealing away workday sandwiches or cake slices you are freezing. However, wax paper, unless completely covered with something such as a cake batter, cannot handle the high heat of the oven as parchment paper can and will start to smoke.
To cook foods “en papillote,” Pepin starts by folding a piece of parchment paper into a large rectangle. Then, using scissors or a knife, he says to follow an imaginary line that resembles a question mark (see step-bystep photos). The paper is unfolded and is shaped like a heart. The food is set on one side of the paper, and then the other side of the paper is folded over it. The edges of the paper are tightly folded, and the tip of the papillote folded several times to ensure a tight seal.
As the food bakes inside the papillote, steam rises and the parchment paper puffs. When the food is cooked, the paper will have a light, brownish tinge and the food will be deliciously bubbling away inside. The papillote is then placed on a dinner plate, and, at the table, the paper is slit open and peeled back to reveal the food, while at the same time releasing the wonderful aromas trapped inside.
All kinds of foods can be cooked “en papillote,” but most often you see quick-cooking ingredients used, such as the salmon fillet topped with shrimp I used in one of today’s recipes, which takes about 1214 minutes to bake. If you cook food too long inside the paper, the paper can become overly dark and brittle.
To efficiently seal food inside parchment paper, make sure you have all your ingredients prepared before you start. You don’t want be chopping something and then trying to fold the paper with dirty hands; it won’t seal properly.
Because parchment paper is moisture-proof, you can prepare papillotes an hour or two in advance, store them on a baking sheet in the fridge, and bake when needed. If you do so, add a minute or two to the baking time, as you’ll be starting the papillotes from a chillier state than if you had baked them right after making them.