By Katia Protsenko
Politics & Culture Editor
This week, we’re getting fancy.
Cooking en papillote is the epitome of impressive food preparation. The name is French, the presentation is dramatic, and you get to take all the haughty credit. What the French (and other fancy at-home chefs) have kept secret is that cooking en papillote is just cooking food in a bag.
Besides ensuring you bragging rights, en papillote is one of the healthiest ways to cook. Vegetables and meats steam in their own juices, keeping the flavor and the nutrients inside your food instead of evaporating away.
Don’t let the phrase “food in a bag” confuse you — you can’t just throw some green beans into a Ziploc bag and expect magic. Cooking en papillote requires an oven, a baking sheet and parchment paper or aluminum foil.
Here’s how it all goes down:
You are guaranteed success by having protein, aromatics, fat, and steaming liquid.
When picking a protein, which is optional, try sticking to fish or tofu. Steak isn’t really meant to be steamed, and it’s tricky to know when chicken is fully cooked if you can’t see it. Fish is fairly consistent in cooking time — 20 minutes at 375 degrees.
If you want to keep things vegetarian, just put in some hearty vegetables. Be sure the vegetables you choose aren’t too delicate — a mixture of onion, carrot, and a hearty green like kale would be delicious.
Aromatics are the reason why cooking en papillote is so great. They give flavor and aroma to your protein and vegetables. Some examples of aromatics are fresh or dried herbs, garlic, onion, shallot, ginger or lemongrass. Mix and match a few, and enjoy the end result.
Fat is flavor. Always make sure you add a few chunks of butter or some olive oil to your packet. Just remember not to add a stick of butter to your four pieces of fish. Some things are best in moderation.
Finally, add your steaming liquid. This can be some lemon juice, (cheap) white wine, broth or even water. Don’t add more than half a cup of your steaming liquid. Too much will drown and boil your food.
To assemble the packet, tear a really long strip of aluminum foil or parchment paper, and fold it in half. Without tearing, line the bottom of your baking sheet with the bottom half of the foil. Put the protein and vegetables of your choice on the lined baking sheet, add some salt and pepper, and cover them with aromatics, fat and steaming liquid. Cover the food with the top half of the foil and seal the ends.
Before you put your packet into the oven, poke some holes into the top of the foil so steam can escape. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the amount of protein in the packet.
When the food is done, all you have to do is tear open the top foil layer. The steaming liquid, protein, and aromatics will have steamed your food and created a flavorful sauce. Just serve over rice, couscous or pasta for an impressive, delicious meal.