Healthy Recipe Essentials: En Papillote

En pappillote is considered a healthy cooking method as it uses heat (not fat) to cook food, keeping calories in check. Here are simple steps to get you started.

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shrimp en pappillote

If you’ve never tried cooking in foil or paper, trust me . . . it’s easy! En papillote is considered a healthy cooking method as it uses heat (not fat) to cook food, keeping calories in check. Here are simple steps to get you started:

En Papillote Basics

En papillote is French for "in parchment," so the food is baked inside parchment paper or foil. The main food and accompanying ingredients (like herbs, vegetables, or sauce) are placed inside packets and either baked in the oven,  cooked in microwave, or even grilled. As the food bakes, steam is created which cooks the food. As the steam is released, it also causes the parchment paper to puff up into a dome shape. To serve the meal, all you need to do is slit open at the table to reveal the goodies inside.

Simple steps:
  1. Prepare ingredients: Trim, wash, slice or dice the main ingredient, prepare the broth or sauce and spices or additional seasonings.
  2. Assemble Packages: Cut paper into heart shape large enough to place all the food on plus a little extra to allow the paper to expand. Brush paper with oil so food doesn’t burn. Place bed of vegetables or sauce on one side and top with main ingredient. Fold empty half over the main item and crimp the edges to seal tightly seal.
  3. Cook: Place in the oven, microwave or on a hot grill. Make sure to use oven-safe paper like parchment (not wax paper – it will melt!). Monitor carefully so delicate foods like fruit and fish don’t overcook.
  4. Serve: With a sharp knife, gently cut into puffed dome.

Watch this video for a demo of how it's done.

The Main

A variety of foods can be cooked en papillote including fruits, vegetables, fish, shellfish, poultry, and pork. For thicker cuts of meat, searing (cooking the outside) before placing in packets help ensure that they are cooked thoroughly.

The Broth or Sauce

Vegetables are often used to provide moisture for the steam. They also add color, flavor, and texture to the dish. Dice or thinly slice vegetables before placing in paper. You may want to blanch (quickly cook in boiling water) longer cooking veggies (like potatoes) ahead of time to make sure they’ll be finished cooking in the same amount of time as the main item.

The Flavoring

Herbs and spices add wonderful flavor to this style of cooking. Fresh herbs can be left on sprigs or minced. Sliced citrus fruit like lemons, limes, grapefruit, or oranges also add delicious flavor and provide liquid for steaming. Wine, vinegar, or other sauces may also be used to add flavor.

The Accompaniments

The finished dish can be served with a side like brown rice, couscous or mashed potatoes. A small scoop of ice cream can be served alongside fruit cooked en papillote. Make sure whatever you choose balances the flavor of the main dish.

Recipes to try:

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

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