Cooking en papillote (French for “parchment”) is a wildly overlooked method of cooking in America. It’s an easy method for a quick weeknight dinner that’s also elegant enough for guests. The smell that escapes when the package is reason enough to try it. This works well for salmon and mild-flavored white fish such as snapper, cod and so on. The best part? No dishes. Just throw the paper away. To assure thorough cooking, fish fillets or chicken breast slices less than a half-inch thick. This works best in parchment paper, but you can also use aluminum foil. Choose ingredients to get a flavor you like. For instance, to get an Asian flavor, use sesame in place of olive oil, add lime, cilantro and ginger to the package, and possibly finely sliced water chestnuts.
You’ll need 2 (10 x 12) inch pieces of parchment. I prefer to use the unbleached variety on the roll; it’s available at most supermarkets for less than $3. You can use foil, but don’t use too much vinegar or wine as it may react with the aluminum. Don’t use wax paper; it will become gummy and sort of “melt,” and frankly, no one wants wax with their chicken. Serves two.
2 (4 oz.) piece of fish or thinly sliced chicken breast
4 teaspoons olive oil
Few sprigs of fresh herbs (dill, basil, thyme, rosemary) or a ½ teaspoon dried
1/4 cup of white wine (or water)
Few thin lemon slices
Pinch of cayenne
Garnish (optional): About ½ cup of vegetable for flavor and garnish: shallots, onion, garlic, zucchini, carrot, broccoli, fennel, mushrooms, etc. each finely chopped or sliced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or 200 Celsius. Fold each sheet in half.On one half of each paper heart, drizzle half the olive oil (two teaspoons per sheet) and add generous pinches of of coarse salt and pepper. Add the fish and turn over to coat. Place herbs, lemon and vegetables on top of the fish and drizzle some wine over each. Crimp the edges of the parchment or foil and shut carefully to avoid allowing any liquid or steam to escape from the package during cooking. Place the packages on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. Allow to sit at least one minute, and then open carefully.