Sous Chef Series

Technique: Cooking En Papillote

Mess-free, flavor-packed: It's dinner in a bag

Little is as easy to cook as food prepared on a camping trip.

Remember hobo packs, those mixtures of vegetables and fish (or hot dogs and sliced onions) wrapped in foil and cooked in the coals? If so, congratulations: En papillote is a fancy word for something a nine-year-old can do.

Steam-cooking food in a parchment or foil pouch, aka en papillote, is a gentle way to prepare ingredients. The natural juices of the meat, fish or vegetables, enhanced by the addition of aromatics, collect in the pouch, forming an effortless sauce. If you form the pouches with foil, you can cook them on the grill. If baking in the oven, use parchment paper, which puffs and bronzes as it cooks.

Want to try it at home? Use this handy slide show to learn just how simple this fancy-sounding cooking technique is.

  • Cut a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil into a 12-inch square and lay the square over a rimmed dinner plate. Place all of the ingredients nearby.

  • Place the meat, fish or vegetables in the center of the square.  Top with fresh herbs or other aromatics, like slivered ginger, scallions and fresh chiles. Spoon a small amount of liquid (try wine, stock, sherry) over. If desired, drizzle with oil or dot with cubes of butter.

  • Fold the parchment over so the edges meet. Crimp and fold to make a tight seal all the way around. The goal is to prevent any steam from escaping from the pouch, so ensure that there are no holes or openings.

  • Carefully place the pouch on the rimmed baking sheet, transfer the baking sheet to a preheated oven and bake.

  • The cooking time will vary depending on what ingredients you include in your pouch, though the cook time and temperature are the same for roasting the ingredients as they are for cooking en papillote. For this seafood-filled version, the oven temperature is 400 degrees and the cook time is 12 minutes. If you're using a parchment pouch, the parchment will puff and brown as the ingredients inside cook.

  • Use the metal spatula to hold the parchment pouch over a bowl and, using scissors, slice off the end of the packet and carefully empty its contents into a serving bowl.

  • Ta-da! An elegant meal for two in under 30 minutes. Get the recipe now and try it tonight.

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