Many times I’ll refer to a recipe or procedure as ‘simple’, and for me, well, maybe they are. But this method of cooking is not only simple, it’s fast, healthy and fairly cuisine-agnostic. You can throw together a meal with stuff you have on hand in the house, forget it in the oven for ten minutes and it’ll still be fork-tender and moist.
Cooking en papillote (French), or al cartoccio (Italian), is a moist heat method that combined steaming and baking by placing the main ingredient and aromatics in a sealed package and putting it in the oven. Often, the package is paper, but you can use tin foil in a pinch.
The most common ingredients are a quick-cooking protein such as fish, chicken, or thinly sliced beef and lamb; aromatics such as vegetables, herbs and spices; and fat and/or liquid to keep everything moist and to provide additional steam for cooking.
In the photos below, I placed a fillet of sole on a piece of parchment, added red pepper strips, lemon slices, capers, butter and scallions, salt and pepper. Because that’s what I had on hand. Zucchini, fennel, carrot strips, white wine, almonds, dill, parsley… really you can throw anything that you can think of into the package.
Now technically, there’s a preferred method for crimping the edges together to form a tight seal, but in truth any method will suffice, as long as it doesn’t allow for steam to escape from the package.
Cook it in a moderate oven for twenty minutes or so, then unwrap and eat. Traditionally, the package is sliced open at the table by the diner, but you can also carefully lift it out and, say, set it on a bed of yellow rice with flakes of black salt.
Or serve it over potatoes, or put cooked rice in the package, or couscous, or spinach, or pumpkin, or corn, or chickpeas…