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What is Cooking En Papillote?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated May 16, 2024
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En papillote is a French term meaning “in parchment” that refers to a cooking method in which food is steam baked while enveloped in a pouch of parchment paper, aluminum foil or a paper bag. It is common to cook poultry, fish and vegetables en papillote because the method steams the food quickly while also retaining moisture either from the food itself or a sauce or stock. The method is simple, quick, low fat and can add flair to a meal since each serving is served in a personal own pouch that allows a cloud of steam and aromas to escape. Fresh ingredients and advanced preparation are crucial elements of successfully cooking en papillote.

For most en papillote recipes, aluminum foil can be used in lieu of parchment paper, the traditional method, and has the added benefit of being safe to use on a grill. If using parchment, the paper must be cut into a shape similar to a heart that is folded over the food and sealed by rolling the edges together prior to baking. When the dish is nearly finished cooking, the parchment paper pouch will be brown and puffed up. Wax paper cannot be used because it tears easily and will burn in the oven.

Cooking fish such as salmon with lemon, garlic or capers is a classic en papillote recipe. Additional combinations include chicken and asparagus, sweet potatoes and leeks, flounder or sole with tomatoes, mushrooms and shallots, and orange roughy fillets topped with mustard sauce. Veal, lobster tails, shrimp and other shellfish may also be prepared using this cooking method. Spices, seasonings and herbs such as basil can be added to many en papillote recipes and most dishes will cook in less than 30 minutes in a moderately hot oven.

Steam cooking food by wrapping it is a method that is not unique to Western cuisine. A common Latin American dish called the tamale consists of masa or corn-based dough and additional fillings like vegetables, meat or cheese wrapped in a banana leaf or corn husk and steamed or boiled. A similar method is used to prepare a variety of Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean dishes including otak-otak, botok, pepes and buntil. Large leaves are used to wrap fish, seafood or coconut flesh based cakes that are then steamed or grilled. In some cases, the wrapping is consumed while in other cases like tamales the wrapping is discarded prior to eating.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By burcinc — On Sep 07, 2011

I have seen plantains being served in large leaves like the article mentioned. I thought it was great because plantains are very firm and hard to cook, not to mention kind of bland. I think the cooks had roasted them and cooked them in the leaves with some other ingredients. It was very delicious.

I think I could probably do the same with aluminum foil or parchment paper and get similar results. Has anyone tried cooking plantains en papillote? How did it come out? Any suggestions for me before I give it a try?

By ddljohn — On Sep 07, 2011

Parchment paper is so handy in the kitchen, especially when you have to serve a lot of people. If there is a dinner party at my house or a birthday party for one of the kids, the first thing I put on my shopping list is parchment paper.

The best part about cooking en papillote is that it takes such little space. I can fit more than thirty salmon pieces in one of my large oven pans with parchment paper. So I can serve more than sixty guests salmon if I want. Can you imagine how many pots and pans I would need if I wanted to cook a different way? Too many to handle!

I also love how flavorful food turns out when it's cooked this way. The paper doesn't absorb any of the sauces and oils in the food, so it slowly simmers and absorbs into the food. I don't know how I ever lived without parchment paper before.

By serenesurface — On Sep 06, 2011

I've never tried cooking this way myself but have had it many times at restaurants. I love ordering fish and meat cooked en papillote because it is always so well cooked, tender and full of moisture.

I also think that it's a lot of fun to open the wrapping yourself, sort of like opening a Christmas present. Each en papillote dish is decorated with vegetables and herbs so delicately that I almost don't want to touch it and ruin its appearance. Aside from how great it tastes, I enjoy this little excitement of figuring out what my food looks like.

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