What is papillote, how to make the most of this cooking technique and 19 recipes to get the most out of it

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The papillote is one of the most grateful cooking techniques that we can apply in our day to day. It is simple, fast and very healthy, it does not require any special equipment and it allows you to prepare a wide variety of dishes full of flavor. And the best thing is that we do not need to follow recipes to the letter when we have mastered the basic steps.

What exactly is a papillote? What foods can be prepared? Now that it seems only interesting avant-garde complicated cuisine, we recover the humble cooking al papillote reviewing its key points so that it always comes out well. We have also selected our best recipes to put papillote into practice at home.

What is a papillote?

The term in papillote comes from the French language and literally means "packaged". It is a technique adopted from our neighbors like so many others from the beginnings of gastronomy, and it has been standardized as the universal name for this form of cooking. In Italy it is known as cooking to cartoccio and we find equivalents in practically all cultures.

The technique consists of cooking certain foods wrapped hermetically in a wrapper, thanks to the heat of the steam that is generated inside. The heat is applied to the outside of the packages, in such a way that the food is protected from direct action, and is cooked in its own juices.

It can be cooked in papillote using practically any heat source, although the most common are the oven, a steamer, the microwave or the iron. It is also possible to make a papillote on the coals of a barbecue, or with certain kitchen machines.

What is used to wrap food?

It is necessary to use a material suitable for food use, that does not generate residues in the food, or strange smells or flavors, and that withstands high temperatures. It must be malleable to be able to shape and wrap the food, but at the same time it must be able to contain the juices that are generated inside without falling apart.

Today the most used materials are aluminum foil and brown or baking paper. It is also possible to use plastic film and commercial roasting bags, which are already sold with a special closure to avoid losses. We even find extra resistant aluminum foil on the market designed precisely for this technique, and silicone utensils.

In other cultures they use organic materials, such as large leaves of banana, yucca or corn on the cob. Preparations with steamed stuffed cabbage leaves could be compared to papillote, although in this case the wrapping itself is also usually eaten, as is the case with dumplings and dim sum.

What foods can be cooked in papillote?

Due to its characteristics, this technique is especially suitable for preparing quick and short cooking foods, such as vegetables, fish and shellfish. You can also cook eggs, certain cheeses, desserts such as fruit compotes, certain simple doughs and even rolls, cakes and pasta dishes.

It is not recommended to prepare large pieces of meat in papillote, although good results can be obtained with leaner cuts and poultry, better in not very large sizes. Chicken breast can be very tasty cooked in papillote, but you have to make sure that it is fully cooked inside.

Advantages and benefits of this technique

We mentioned at the beginning that the papillote offers multiple advantages, both gastronomic and in terms of health. It is one of the techniques most recommended by nutritionists and experts to cook in a healthy way, very suitable for weight loss or weight control diets, low in fat or for people with delicate digestions.

This system hardly requires the addition of any oil, butter or other culinary fats, they can even be omitted completely, if necessary. Food is cooked in its own juices, concentrating all its flavors and aromas, leaving it juicy and tender, but retaining a certain texture.

Food is cooked in its own juices preserving its nutrients

The short cooking time allows to keep the food al dente, at its point, without so much risk of overcooking, something especially positive with vegetables. The vegetables are more whole, with a more vivid color and maintaining their natural flavor. They can also absorb the aromas of the other ingredients, and also transmit their own flavor to other foods when cooked together.

Thus, in addition to flavor, nutrients are also better preserved, which can be lost with other techniques such as boiling in water. And since the food is protected from the outside, without receiving direct heat, it is prevented from burning and also from the loss of certain vitamins and minerals.

And another great advantage is that it is a very simple technique, easily adaptable to any kitchen and a multitude of seasonal ingredients, all year round. Cooking in papillote is easy, fast and not cumbersome, it does not require an infinity of utensils and it also saves us from strong odors in the kitchen.

How to make a basic paper

The biggest difficulty when making a papillote is finding the doneness when we prepare the main food with its garnish in the same package. But in reality it is as simple as adapting the times to each ingredient.

Salmon papillote with leeks, ginger and teriyaki sauce.

The most basic preparation consists of a papillote of fish and vegetables. Although we could cook large whole pieces, with head and tail included, it is easier to distribute already clean portions. We can use both white and blue fish, although it is true that somewhat firmer pieces will give us better results: hake, salmon or cod are good options.

Since the fish usually takes between 5-10 minutes, you must adjust the cooking time of the garnish. Vegetables usually take longer, so we can sauté them, poach them or blanch them briefly before preparing the packages.

You have to adapt the cooking times of each food

It is usual to cut two or three types of vegetables into julienne strips - thin strips - to cook them for a few minutes, leaving them still firm. Slices or half moons also give good results, and thus be able to form a bed for the fish. In any case, choose ingredients with similar cooking times and cut them regularly.

Feta cheese with vegetables in papillote.

We must avoid excess liquid inside the packages, since we will have more juices once the cooking is finished. A little oil, fragrant wine, a splash of vinaigrette, lemon juice or soy sauce can be enough garnishes.To give more flavor it is better to use fresh herbs or spices, always keeping in mind that it is better not to overdo it, since the aromas will be very concentrated.

The papillote can be cooked in the oven, at about 160º-180º C, in the microwave at medium-maximum power or in a steamer. They can also be done on a griddle, grill or embers, although in this case it will be necessary to make firmer packages, better with a double layer, even combining a first paper wrapper and an outer aluminum one.

Tips for forming packages

Papillote cooking packages must cover the food completely, being hermetically sealed without cracks, but leaving some interior space for the vapors generated during cooking.

  • Aluminum foil should be avoided if we are going to add an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar, because it can react and break it.
  • Use large portions of paper, better than a little left to fall short.
  • If you are using parchment paper, cut out a large rectangle and place the food in the center. Take the long upper and lower ends to wrap the ingredients, fold them about 3 times on themselves and press gently, to close the package at the top. Fold the short side ends up several times and fold them down.
  • In the case of aluminum foil, it is better to form an envelope. Cut a large rectangle, place the food in the center of one end and fold the paper so that it covers it completely. Fold the three side edges over themselves to form an envelope with a top opening. Add the missing garnishes and close the package by folding this end several times as well, pressing all the folds firmly.
  • You can also cut circles, place the food in the center and form round packages by tying the ends with kitchen string at the top.
  • Another way to create packages is to mimic the shape of a candy, folding and folding the top and bottom ends, and twisting the sides. They can be secured with kitchen twine.

Originally the technique in papillote French allowed to play with the element of surprise in the diner, bringing the individual sealed packages directly to the plate at the table. Whether or not we want to keep the mystery in our house, it is a good idea to keep this way of serving, since it greatly facilitates the plating and avoids the loss of temperature.

The silicone containers already designed to cook steamed or in papillote, both in the oven and in the microwave, allow the garnish to be cooked inside before adding the fish or meat. If we make paper packages, we will not be able to reopen them to add anything, so it is advisable to sauté the vegetables first separately.

The best recipes for cooking al papillote Directly to the Palate

Cod and vegetables papillote.
  • Baked salmon in papillote with vegetables
  • Salmon papillote with leeks, ginger and teriyaki sauce
  • Salmon en papillote with coriander
  • Scrambled eggs with salmon and wild asparagus
  • Salmon supreme with tapenade
  • Salmon papillote with asparagus and tangerines with Thermomix
  • Cod and vegetables papillote
  • Hake al papillote with carrots, bimi and its cream
  • Leeks in papillote with Thermomix
  • Feta cheese with vegetables en papillote
  • Mussels en papillote
  • Spaghetti en papillote
  • Noodles en papillote
  • Baked sardines in papillote
  • Halibut papillote with zucchini
  • Sea bass a la papillote
  • Dorada in Vegetable Papillote
  • Mushrooms and Iberian in papillote
  • Papillote of potatoes

Photos | iStock

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