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Enlightened Cooking

Martha Stewart Living, January 2005

There's a secret to making healthy meals tantalizing enough to serve to friends. It's all in the packaging -- parchment packaging, that is. Preparing dishes en papillote, which loosely translates to "wrapped in paper," might not be the most obvious approach to nutritious cuisine, but it's possibly the smartest. French chefs were the first to appreciate the easy drama of creating pale, pretty packets that, once opened, would release aromatic steam and reveal finely seasoned entrees inside.

Home cooks should take note: This showy technique is also a great way to prepare low-fat foods, and doesn't require culinary expertise or fancy tools. The shopping list merely calls for parchment paper (an inexpensive grocery-store staple) and wholesome foods such as fish, poultry, fresh vegetables, or even fruit. Everything is bundled into packets with herbs and spices, then sealed and briefly cooked. The oven does most of the work. Its heat melds the flavors and coaxes moisture from each ingredient, which -- along with maybe a sprinkle of broth or wine -- steams the food. For your part, it's essential to seal the packets well, and to mind oven times and temperatures. The paper puffs invitingly, offering a clue that everything is properly cooked. That's the moment to seize. Deliver the parcels, and show your guests that sometimes the best things do indeed come in small packages.

Wrap nourishing Chicken with Ginger and Scallions or Salmon with Spinach and Potato or Mussels in Tomato-Parsley Sauce in parchment and slip them into the oven. The results will be simply divine.

Parchment Folding How-To

Chicken in Parchment
1. Cut 4 sheets of parchment, each measuring 13 inches square. Working with one sheet at a time, fold paper in half (but do not crease). Holding edges of paper together, make a 1/2-inch fold, and crease. Make another 1/2-inch fold in the same direction, and crease to form a seam.

2. Lay packet flat with seam centered on top.

3. Press center seam (fold side down) to flatten. Press both long sides to flatten packet.

4. Flip paper over. Make a 1-inch fold on one short end, and crease. Make another fold in the same direction, and crease to seal. Repeat on opposite end. Flip paper over, seam side up.



Salmon in Parchment
Cut two sheets of parchment, each measuring 12 by 17 inches. Fold each in half crosswise; then open, and lay flat. For each sheet, layer ingredients on one side of crease. Fold parchment over ingredients. Make small overlapping pleats to seal the open sides and create a half-moon shape.



Mussels in Parchment
Cut a sheet of parchment to 15 by 24 inches. Fold in half crosswise, and crease.

1. Make a 1-inch fold on one open side; crease firmly. Fold again. Repeat on opposite side, forming an open pocket.

2. Hold parcel up. Pour in mussels. Fold open edge down twice (in the opposite direction as the first folds); crease to seal. Cut two sheets of parchment, each measuring 12 by 17 inches. Fold each in half crosswise; then open, and lay flat. For each sheet, layer ingredients on one side of crease. Fold parchment over ingredients. Make small overlapping pleats to seal the open sides and create a half-moon shape.