In the Bag: Healthy Cooking en Papillote

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Who knew a little piece of paper could be so handy in the kitchen? Cooking “en papillote” — or in a parchment pouch — is a quick, easy, healthy and inexpensive way to make impressive steamed meals. Just throw a few fresh ingredients into a little parcel and let the paper do the work.

WHAT IS BAKING EN PAPILLOTE?

Baking “en papillote” is the fancy French way of saying “in parchment,” and it’s the coolest obvious healthy cooking trick you’ve likely never tried. First, you make a little pouch with parchment (or with aluminum foil), fill it with fresh ingredients, then toss it in the oven or on the grill.

In the oven, the little pouches serve as personal-sized steamers for all sorts of ingredients — fresh vegetables, potatoes, fresh fish or seafood are all favorites. The pouches also allow the steam to impart flavors, so adding fresh herbs to the pouch is a great idea.

WHY BAKE EN PAPILLOTE?

Baking en papillote is a quick, easy, inexpensive way of whipping up an impressive and delicious meal. Because the steam is doing the work, you need less fat to build flavor and end up with a delicious, lower-calorie steamed meal.

HOW DO YOU BAKE EN PAPILLOTE?

All you need to work the magic are the fresh ingredients themselves and a little bit of fat such as butter or olive oil, and maybe a splash of wine to get the steam going. In fact, the most challenging part of baking en papillote is folding the pouch itself (and that’s a piece of cake.)

1. Fold a 14-by-12-inch piece of parchment paper in half. (The technique also works for grilling; just substitute aluminum foil.) Using kitchen shears, cut the parchment into a heart shape.

2. Arrange vegetables and herbs on one side of the paper. Top with fish. Add olive oil or butter and a splash of wine or broth to keep the fish moist and create a sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Brush the edges of the paper with beaten egg whites for a tighter seal, if desired.

3. Working from one end, begin tightly folding the open edge of the paper.

4. Continue folding the paper’s open edge to form a seal. Transfer the packet to a rimmed baking sheet and bake. (If using foil, place directly on the grill.)

5. Inside add:

  • Salmon and spring asparagus. Place 1/4 of a small onion on the paper, top with a handful of trimmed asparagus spears, then drizzle with olive oil and a small splash of wine. Top with a small filet of salmon and seal the pouch.
  • Baby potatoes w/salted butter. Place 6–8 small baby potatoes on the paper, top with 1 tablespoon butter and 2 sprigs fresh thyme. Seal the pouch and cook.
  • Spicy Shrimp: Place a small handful of shrimp on a the paper, add 1/4 of a small onion, one small slice of lemon, a sprinkle of salt, pepper and a squeeze of hot chili paste, then top with 1/2 tablespoon salted butter. Seal the pouch and steam.

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