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Cooking en papillote - Cooking in parcels


Detailed information how to cook all types of food "en papillote" - in parcels made of parchment paper and other materials


Jump to:-   What is cooking en papillote?  |   Why cook in parcels  |  What to use to make papillote parcels  |   Methods of cooking in parcels What can you cook in parcels? |   Moisture and seasonings   |   How to assemble papillote parcels  |  Top 10 Tips  |  Recipes



What is cooking en papillote ?


The term en papillote translates from French to "in parchment". Cooking en papillote is a classic technique for cooking food in sealed parcels which are traditionally made from parchment paper. Despite the French name,  this technique is used in many cultures the world over.  In Italian the technique is referred to as al Cartoc and no doubt each culture will have its own name, but for the purposes of this editorial, all types of cooking in parcels will be referred to as "en papillote".


The parcels can contain just one main ingredient such as a fillet of fish or side vegetables, or complete meals such as potatoes, chicken and vegetables or a seafood pasta, so the size of the parcels will vary however the one thing which remains a constant, is that this technique relies on a certain amount of moisture being present to ensure the food steams in its own juices and remains moist and tender during cooking. See suitable ingredients below.


What are the benefits of cooking en papillote?


Cooking in parcels is a simple, clean and tasty way of cooking and serving many foods. The aim is to enclose food items in sealed parcels or pouches and to cook usually for a relatively short period of time (up to 30 minutes), which generally produces a lighter dish which has all the flavour and goodness sealed in. In effect, the food is being steamed.


As many en papillotes recipes can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to be cooked, cooking en papillote can save time at the point of cooking - especially useful for weekday suppers. 


As you cook the food in the parcels  it saves on washing up with no ovenware to scrub clean. Further more, if you make the whole meal in the same or separate parcels, and serve the parcels in tact, the plates will only need a minimum of washing up too.


Additional ingredients are usually added for extra flavour and the whole finished parcel is often served in tact on individual diners' plates so they open their own parcels. This can create a dramatic effect especially for dinner parties, but is great fun even  for the most simple of mid-week meals.

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What to use to make the papillote parcels and types of parcels


In the west, traditional parcels are made of parchment paper, however today greaseproof paper, aluminium foil and even special “roasting bags" are frequently used. Depending on the recipe other carriers can also be used such as banana leaves and corn husks.  It should be noted that the wrapping is not edible and is merely there to protect the food during  the cooking process, sealing in juices and flavour.



Flat parcels using parchment paper or greaseproof paper – suitable for steaming and baking. The traditional shape is a half heart where the edges are crimped or decoratively pleated. Perfect for dinner parties, they can be made into any shape so long as they are large enough to encase the food with plenty of room for expansion.


Moneybag parcels tied with string using parchment paper or greaseproof - suitable for steaming and baking. Best reserved for smaller amounts of food such as vegetables, starters or pates.


Aluminium Foil – best for baking and barbecues. Although paper parcels can be cut and folded to look really fancy, don’t overlook aluminium foil which is not only much easier to handle and shape but can be made into much larger parcels if necessary. It is also an absolute must when it comes to bbqs as it won’t burn and can be used for endless ingredients helping to make your barbecues unusual and special.


Banana leaves - suitable for steaming, baking, boiling and barbecues.


Corn husks - suitable for steaming, baking, boiling and barbecues.



Methods of cooking papillote parcels


Although we have come across more unusual methods such as little sealed ackages being deep fried, the three most popular methods are steaming, baking and barbecuing.


Steaming requires no special equipment, other than a roll of parchment paper or foil however attention must be given to ensure the parcels are sealed very well to ensure they don’t undo during cooking. Choose parchment, greaseproof or banana/corn husks when steaming foods with a high acidic content such as vinegar, to avoid a chemical reaction with aluminium.  


Baking also doesn't require any special equipment although you are strongly advised to always place parcels on a baking tray to prevent spillages.


Barbecuing is perfect for aluminium foil parcels. Almost anything can be cooked in foil so this method is ideal as it means you can cook ingredients on the bbq which might otherwise be difficult.  Place foil parcels joins or folds upwards, either on the grill or directly amidst the coals depending on the recipe.


Suitable Ingredients for cooking en Papillote


Practically any ingredient can be cooked in parcels, however large pieces of food which would take much longer than 30 minutes to cook such as chicken joints are best avoided. Items which work very well include:-


Chicken – boneless breast cut into slices up to 5cm/2-inches thick or small cubes

Beef / Lamb -  boneless cut into slices about 2.5cm/1-inch thick or small cubes

Pork  - boneless cut into slices about 2.5cm/1-inch thick or small cubes

Fish and seafood – fillets, cutlets, steaks, small whole fish, prawns, mussels, clams, squid pieces. All of these are generally added raw to the parcels unless otherwise stated in the recipe.


Vegetables – Everything from potatoes to peas either as part of a main course or as accompaniments. Care should be taken as to the cutting and preparation. In general, dense items such as potatoes should be very thinly sliced but delicate vegetables such as mangetout can be left whole.


Pasta and Noodles – all types of pasta can be added to the parcels and it as a very good choice when wanting to serve a main course dish such as seafood with pasta. However, it must be cooked before adding to the parcel. Items like spaghetti should be cooked to the al dente stage (so it has a slight bite) but items such


Fruit – sliced, chopped or whole depending on the fruit


Adding extra moisture and seasonings


As mentioned above, the key to well cooked en papillote food is to have a certain amount if moisture in the parcel before it is sealed. Many veggies and fruit can cope with very little additional moisture unless extra flavour or a “sauce” is required. But most fish, chicken and meat dishes can do with a little added moisture. Depending on the recipe good options include the following however think about how much you add as surprisingly little will create enough steam without making the end result too soggy:-




Alcohol such as vermouth, wine, brandy, rum etc.

Lemon juice

Fruit juice



Soy sauce

Fish Sauce

Worcestershire Sauce

Other ready made up sauces

“Watery” vegetables such as courgettes or pumpkin

Sliced lemons or limes


Seasonings and Flavourings

It doesn’t  matter how beautiful it looks, if it’s not properly seasoned and tasty then there’s no point. Salt and pepper goes a long way in most savoury dishes but use whatever seasonings you would use in other recipes. Below are just a few ideas for seasoning your en papillote recipes


Asian – Ginger, soy sauce, chillies, coriander, spring onion, fish sauce

Mediteranean -  Lemon, olives,  garlic,  basil,  oregano, onions

Flavoured Butters e.g. herb, chilli, garlic – really great for a simple solution on fish, chicken and vegetables.



How to make and assemble papillote parcels


It is very important to make the parcel large enough to accommodate all the ingredients with plenty of space to spare so the parcel can be sealed well folding joins over at least twice, plus space left for the parcel to expand with steam during cooking. Bellow is a step by step guide as to how to prepare the food, cut,  fill and seal the papillote parcel.


1.  Prepare all the food before cutting the paper or foil so you have a good idea how large to cut the papillote.  Take care to cut foods in suitable sizes e.g. thinly slice or cut dense foods such as potatoes and carrots especially when combining these with less dense food such as fish,  to ensure all the foods cook completely during the cooking time.


2.   Fold the paper/foil in half then cut out the shape you want.


3.   Open the parcel out and lightly butter or oil one half to ensure the contents won't stick during cooking.


4.   Assemble the ingredients over the buttered/oiled part making sure you leave a good border all the way around - around 5cm/2-inches depending on the overall size - so you can fold or crimp the edges over twice to get a good seal.


5.  Add any moisture (wine, stock, lemon juice etc., and seasonings then seal the parcel well before cooking.


6.  Fold the other half over, line up the edges then, starting at the wider part, begin folding the paper over itself. As you progress around the paper, you'll end with a pointy bit which can just be twisted and folded over/under.


Don't forget, papillote parcels can be any shape or size whether made from parchment or foil, but care should be taken when sealing the parcel. In particular, when steaming, it is a good idea to place the folds facing downward so they don't come undone during steaming.



Top  10 tips for cooking en papillote


·         Parchment paper can safely be used in an oven at temperatures up to 220C, 425F, Gas mark 7 (Hot)
and is resistant to humidity and boiling

·         Aluminium foil can safely be used at high oven and barbecue temperatures and is resistant to humidity and boiling

·       Prepare all the food to be cooked before you start cutting or assembling the parcels and lightly butter or oil one side of the inside of the parcel if necessary to prevent the food sticking


·       Take care to cut foods in suitable sizes so all the ingredients cook through in the allotted time. For example, thinly slice dense foods such as potatoes, swede and carrots,  especially when cooking with less dense food such as fish


·       Don’t forget to add seasonings and a little moisture if necessary before sealing the parcels as steam needs to be generated during the cooking period. As little as 1 tablespoon will suffice in most recipes


·         Always leave plenty of space in the parcels so they can puff up and cook evenly. The parcel will slightly brown in the oven when the dish is nearly done


·         When steaming, you can place any fold or join downwards to prevent it from coming undone but make sure it’s at least triple turned to ensure nothing can escape from it

·        When baking,  place all parcels on a baking tray and keep the joins/pleats uppermost but make sure they are well folded as the parcels will puff up during cooking


·         When barbecuing, make sure you use foil not paper and triple turn all folds. Place the parcels on the outer edges of the coals or on the grill


·       Julienne vegetables look stunning and can add aromatic flavours which fill the air with exotic aromas once the parcels are cut open. Fennel,  ginger, carrots, chillies, peppers and celery look great.

En Papillote Recipes


Below is a selection of en Papillote recipes by , the majority of which Serves 4 and are ready to eat in under 30 mins


The combination of foods and seasonings which can be used to cook in parcels is almost endless however, below are just a few full recipes to give you an idea of what can be achieved - from starters to complete main course meals using fish like turbot, mackerel, trout, bream and red mullet, chicken, venison, lamb, gammon and pork plus vegetables or pasta side dishes and fruit desserts


The recipes also vary in the type of parcel they use - parchment, aluminium foil etc., so hopefully you will find just what you are looking for.


You can find more en papillote recipes on this site by using the search facility below.  Happy Cooking !


En papillote starter recipes ( appetizer recipes in parcels)

Asparagus with Chive Butter en Papillote   HT  HD  20mins

Foil-Baked Ginger Chilli Salmon     HT HD  20 mins

Aromatic Scallop and Prawns Parcels     HT  HD  25 mins

Egg and Spinach Money Bags   Veg  HT  HD  25 minutes

Pear Goats Cheese and Walnuts en Papillote    Veg   HT  HD  35 mins

Hot Pâté en Papillotes     HT  HD  45mins

Tongue en Papillotes    HT  HD  50mins


En papillote main course recipes ( entrée recipes in parcels)

Fish, Pasta and Vegetable

Foil baked Linguine with Seafood     HT   MC  20mins

Cod and Samphire en Papillote     HT MC  25mins

Turbot en Papillote     HT  MC  25mins

Butternut Pasta En Papillote   Veg  HT  MC  30 mins

Red Mullet Parcels     HT  MC  35mins

Oriental Salmon vegetable and noodle parcels   HT  MC  35 mins       New !  Oct 2014

Stuffed Mackerel Parcels      HT   BBQ   MC   35mins

Trout stuffed with Coriander      HT   MC   40mins

Baked Fish with Plantain      HT  MC  Fijian  50mins

Moroccan Baked Fish      HT  MC  Moroccan  50mins

Bream en Papillote     HT  MC  60mins


Poultry and Meat

Gammon en Papillotes      HT  MC  40mins

Oriental Chicken  en Papillote      HT   MC   40 mins

Sesame Pork en Papillote    HT  MC  40 mins

Venison with Red Cabbage en Papillote    HT  MC  40 mins

Aubergines with Minty Lamb      HT  MC  75mins

Coconut Chicken Curry Parcels     HT  MC  Cambodian 100mins


En papillote side recipes ( accompaniment recipes in parcels)

Barbecued Tomatoes     HT  ACC  BBQ  Australian  20mins

Curried Rice Noodles en Papillote   Veg  HT ACC 20 minutes

Spring Vegetables en Papillote   Veg  HT ACC   25 minutes

Mangetout and Sweetcorn Parcels      Veg   HT  BBQ  ACC  30mins

Potatoes and Leeks en Papillote     Veg  HT  ACC  30 mins

Aubergine Stack en Papillote Veg  HT ACC  40 minutes

Barbecued Onions      Veg  HT  BBQ  ACC  40mins

Wild Mushroom Rice En Papillote    Veg  HT  ACC   mins

Roast Pumpkin    Veg  HT  ACC  British  50mins


En papillote dessert recipes

Barbecued Cinnamon Bananas     Veg  HT  BBQ  DP  15mins

Baked Summer Fruit     Veg  HT  DP  25min

Barbecued Grapefruit       Veg   HT  BBQ  DP  25mins  Can also be cooked in the oven

Barbecued Oranges     Veg  HT  BBQ  DP  25mins    Can also be cooked in the oven

BBQ Pear and Blueberry Parcels     Veg  HT  BBQ  DP  30mins   Can also be cooked in the oven

Barbecued Stuffed Apples     Veg  HT  BBQ  DP  40mins   Can also be cooked in the oven

Steamed Banana Parcels     Veg   HT  DP  Malaysian  80mins



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