The Meaning of en Papillote

Sole fillet and lemon wedge on baking paper and slate

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In the culinary arts, the term en papillote refers to a moist-heat cooking method where the food is enclosed in a packet of parchment paper or foil and then cooked in the oven. Delicate foods such as chicken breast or fish may be cooked en papillote as they can be quickly cooked by this steaming method.

  • Pronunciation: ON poppy-YOTE
  • Word meaning: En papillote means "in paper" or "in parchment" in French. In Italian, it is al cartoccio.

Cooking en Papillote

When cooking en papillote, there are usually vegetables, herbs, and seasonings included in the packet along with the main item, such as a fish filet. These additional ingredients, along with the main item, give off steam, which is what actually cooks the food. Therefore, en papillote cooking is basically a technique for cooking with steam.

Because it is delicate and cooks quickly, fish is often a choice for cooking in this way. Salmon en papillote is a popular dish. Sole and other delicate white fish may be cooked en papillote. Shrimp may also be cooked by this method. Vegetarian recipes en papillote can be found for mushrooms and spring vegetables.

Aromatic herbs and seasonings used depend on the recipe and the desired flavor of the finished dish. Onions, garlic, dill, fennel, ginger, thyme, sage, rosemary, lemon zest, orange zest, tarragon, oregano, or chives are some suggestions.

A small amount of liquid may be added, such as wine, lemon juice, or stock. A little oil might be added, especially one that imparts flavor such as sesame oil. The items are usually seasoned before the packet is closed, with salt and pepper.

Baking time and temperature will depend on the item being cooked. Because you can't see inside the packet to tell whether it is done or not, you may need to rely on the recipe or trial and error.

What Should You Use for the Pouch?

Parchment paper is the traditional wrapping used to create the cooking packet as denoted by the name of the technique. It is a sturdy paper that has been processed in a way that partially dissolves the paper to increase its stability and make the surface slick, so food won't stick to it. It won't allow liquid to escape. You have to fold the ends well in order to keep the steam and liquid inside, however.

Aluminum foil is another choice, which is likewise non-stick and liquid won't permeate through it. It can be easily crimped shut to keep in the steam.

In a pinch, a clean brown paper bag would work for cooking en papillote, but liquid might leak through during cooking.

For Asian cooking, large leaves such as banana leaves may be used for cooking en papillote, serving the same purpose as parchment or aluminum foil but making for a more colorful presentation.

Serving a Dish Prepared en Papillote

When serving a recipe prepared en papillote, it is traditional to present the dish by slicing open the paper in front of the guest. A romantic dinner might be prepared by forming the packets as two halves of a heart shape.