En Papillote Is Our Favorite Method for Cooking Delicate Fish and Other Foods

This easy French technique calls for steaming food in parchment packets in the oven—and minimizes cleanup.

Salmon and cucumber cooked food en papillote

Cooks around the world have been wrapping and cooking food in leaves for centuries. Whether using banana, lotus, perilla, shiso, or other leaves, they provide natural and flavorful protection to the food as it cooks. An easy way to get that same protection when cooking at home is to cook en papillote, a classic French culinary technique that uses parchment paper wrappers rather than leaves.

What Is Cooking en Papillote?

En papillote translates as "in paper" and refers to the French method of encasing ingredients in a tightly sealed pouch of parchment paper. When a piece of fish with lemon and seasoning is cooked en papillote, cutting the paper open to reveal a glistening, steamy, aromatic meal is quite the spectacle. Restaurants use this method for an impressive and ceremonious tableside presentation.

The Benefits

Cooking en papillote is a simple, delicious, and impressive way to prepare a meal at home, and a great technique to learn for a number of reasons:

  • Because you're creating individual portions, it's easy to scale a recipe up or down, depending on how many people you're cooking for. Cooking for eight is just as easy as cooking for one.
  • It's quick: When the parchment pouch is tightly sealed, ingredients cook quickly because of the intense steam that is created inside.
  • Food doesn't dry out: Everything stays moist inside the parchment pouch.
  • Any juices released by the ingredients in the parchment stay within the pouch—cleanup is easy.
  • Best of all is the taste: Cooking en papillote produces an intensely flavored dish if you season boldly with citrus slices and aromatics such as garlic, ginger, and scallions. Nothing gets lost to the air or the oven when cooking within a sealed pouch.

Types of Food to Use

It's typical to see various types of fish used for cooking en papillote. Not only is fish delicate and cooks quickly, it's also notoriously difficult to cook correctly on the stovetop or grill, and can often break when flipped or handled. Cooking en papillote is a natural choice for cooking fish filets for these reasons, and will be sure to save you struggles in preparation.

Other proteins that might dry out are great options for cooking in this method. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts turn out exceedingly moist thanks to the steam bath they get from cooking en papillote. So do many vegetables, such as mushrooms, potatoes, and broccoli.

What Not to Use

It's important to know your ingredients. Anything that releases water as it cooks might create a messy pouch. Avoid spinach and other leafy greens inside the packet. They are better prepared on the side. Delicate herbs, such as basil or mint, might turn black if cooked for too long.

Tips for Success

While the term en papillote literally refers to paper, no one has to know if you diverge from tradition for the sake of ease. Parchment paper is certainly prettier for serving, but even French restaurant chefs admit to the convenience and moldability of aluminum foil. If you don't have any parchment paper on hand, go with foil.

Before you seal up your precious package, add a splash of white wine, broth, even some gin or sherry to gently infuse nuanced flavor, and coax even more steam during the cooking process.

5 Delicious Recipes for Cooking en Papillote

01 of 05

Salmon and Zucchini Baked in Parchment


Your family loves salmon, but have they tried it en papillote? Creating a bed for the filets with vegetables builds layers of flavor that season the fish from the bottom up.

02 of 05

Ginger-Scallion Chicken Breasts Baked in Parchment


This recipe calls for stuffing chicken breasts with a mix of grated ginger and sliced scallions, infusing flavor from the inside out as they steam inside the parchment package.

03 of 05

Spanish Cod with Chorizo and Fennel

spanish cod with chorizo and fennel recipe plate
Sidney Bensimon

Chorizo is a powerfully flavored Spanish sausage that makes a great complement to mild-tasting cod. Leaning into Spain's favorite citrus fruit, this recipe utilizes orange slices rather than the usual lemon for a sweet flavor and aroma.

04 of 05

Broccoli, Asparagus, and Snap Peas in Parchment


Cooking green vegetables en papillote encourages a beautiful, vibrant color, not dissimilar to blanching. Steaming also brings out their natural sweetness.

05 of 05

Flounder in Parchment with Asparagus and Shiitakes

Flounder en Papillote with Asparagus and Shiitake Mushrooms on decorative plate
Ryan Liebe

A small amount of white wine makes all the difference in this recipe. Mushrooms can dry out and shrivel if roasted too long in the oven, but cooking en papillote keep them moist and tender.

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