Cooking en Papillote Is the Easy, Elegant, and Healthy Way to Make Dinner

This classic French technique uses parchment paper packets to "steam" foods in the oven.

Photo: Bryan Gardner

Cooking en papillote (or parchment paper) is the epitome of easy meal prep. It's a technique that yields elegant yet fuss-free dishes, making it ideal for quick dinners and special occasions alike. Ahead, learn how to use the method for your favorite ingredients, whether you're serving salmon fillets or seasoned vegetables.

What is Cooking en Papillote?

Cooking en papillote involves placing food in a packet of parchment paper, then baking it in the oven. The technique, like stovetop steaming, allows you cook foods sans fats or oils, which some people prefer for health reasons. But unlike the stovetop method, cooking en papillote doesn't require a steamer basket or water. All you need is parchment paper, a baking sheet, and the foods you'd like to cook.

Benefits of Cooking in Parchment

Thanks to the wrapping technique of this method, the parchment packet acts an envelope. As a result, the ingredients' moisture remains in the packet, essentially turning evaporation into condensation, says Greg Lofts, our deputy food editor. This ensures the ingredients stay moist and tender while maintaining the essence of their flavors. What's more, the packets can be prepared up to a day in advance, making it an excellent choice for make-ahead meals or single-serving dinners.

How to Make a Parchment Packet

To create a parchment packet, you'll need a standard sheet of parchment paper. Fold it in half, crosswise, and create a strong crease. Add the food to the center of one side, then fold the other half over the food. Starting at one corner, roll the edges into a semi-circle pouch, then place on a rimmed baking sheet and cook according to the recipe's directions. When it's time to eat, cut open the pouches with kitchen shears. Keep in mind that the packets will release steam, so be sure to do this step carefully.

Tips for Cooking in Parchment

According to Lofts, the hardest part of this method is getting the timing right. After all, when your food is enclosed in a packet, it's difficult to know when it's ready. That being said, he suggests using this method with ingredients that cook quickly, like fish, shrimp, and vegetables such as asparagus. For heartier vegetables like sweet potatoes and beets, you'll want to slice them into ½-inch rounds or planks to ensure they cook evenly. On that note, the technique works best with foods of even thickness. For example, as Lofts explains, you'll have more success cooking boneless skinless chicken breasts in parchment paper versus a bone-in, skin-on breast, which has both thick and thin sides.

Also, don't underestimate the power of aromatics, such as fresh herbs, shallot, onion, garlic, and citrus zest. For instance, if you're cooking fish and asparagus in parchment, Lofts recommends adding lemon zest and white wine to the packet, then serving the meal with lemon wedges. Other delicious additions include vinegar, ginger, and toasted sesame oil. Ultimately, the key is to "think how to build flavor other than the pure essence of the food," says Lofts.

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