Sunday, July 12, 2009

paper bag cookery - en papillote

There's something delightful about receiving a parcel. It's the discovery process in the opening that enchants.

This holds true also for food. Cooking in parchment paper, ...... en papillote in French or al cartoccio in Italian, was one of the earliest cooking techniques that I experimented with as a child. Perhaps I was enchanted (then as now) with the hidden treasures of aromas and taste. When the best of the season's ingredients are folded in a pouch (of parchment, bag or aluminium foil) and then baked, the flavour is captured within and released as the parcel is opened.

One of my most memoriable parcels was Tuscan perfection at Cibreo in Florence and provides the perfect example of cooking with this technique. A parcel of aluminium foil arrives at the restaurant table. The simple package is opened to reveal flat wild mushrooms, which had been baked in a little oil, and tickled with a few fresh herbs. All the flavour, all the aromas were retained. Simple! Delicious!

METHOD: To make a parcel lay the parchment (or foil) out flat. Grease with butter or oil. Place ingredients in the centre of the sheet (covering no more than 1/4 of the surface area). Add a wet ingredient (wine, stock, water, tomato concasse ...) as sauce if desired. Add the hero and accompaniments including herbs spice and seasonings. Fold the sides to close the parcel at the top and sides; roll to the edges to secure tightly.

Ideas and combinations for ingredients are limitless. Here are just a few basic ideas as a starting point:


Fish is the most commonly used ingredient for this method of cooking. The simplest approach is to add slices of lemon, and a herb (such as dill), or perhaps even capers
  • Fish can be cooked with a vegetable accompaniment in the same parcel. Try a mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery) or a julienne trio such as leeks, capsicum/pepper, carrots as starting points.
  • Molluscs (such as squids, cuttlefish or octopus) enjoy this treatment with a bed of fennel, or try tomato concasse or green pesto oil
  • Bivalves (such as mussels, clams, cockles or pipis) and a splash of white wine with a herb make a simple treat
From these bases, add other flavours, experiment, enjoy. Try a parcel with Asian flavour combinations too.

  • Potatoes, radishes, carrots with a little vegetable broth and garlic (try other root vegetables such as sweet potato, parsnips, rutabaga, celeriac)
  • When I can I bake corn on the cob still in its husk as its own parcel. Where the husk has been removed use aluminium foil. Accompaniments in the foil parcel can include butter, salt and pepper, red capsicum/pepper dice, chilli flakes
  • Zucchini/courgettes make a wonderful base vegetable for a parcel as this technique retains flavour. Serve skewered on rosemary branches with pieces of red capsicum/bell pepper and a little tomato/garlic/white wine sauce
#try also CHICKEN, DUCK, LAMB, BEEF, PORK and accompaniments ... I believe the French also use this method for RABBIT ... now that your getting the hang of this expand your repertoire to include KANGAROO, GOAT, VENISON, PIDGEON and more

#OFFAL I've seen recipes in French cookbooks for en papillote for sheep's tongue and have had success in lightly cooking livers with cognac and cream in a parcel

  • Strawberries or other berries warmed through with brandy make a simple parcel idea
  • Bananas and brown sugar and rum are another treat

I've read and seen others partly cook the ingredients before laying on the paper. I've never done this. I've only put my fresh raw ingredients in my treasure. I'm not sure if it's because I want to utilise this method to its utmost, if it's because I am lazy, or if it's because of habit and cooking this way (without first searing or sealing) since I was a child, but in any regard, each time my end results have been delicious.

While parcels are traditionally baked in the oven, these ideas above and below, can also be adapted for the BBQ.

And here are some links for other ideas:



HOT SMOKED TERIYAKI DUCK with pak choi and ginger

LAMB CHOP PARCELS by Aaron Craze (Market Kitchen)

LEMON CHICKEN PARCELS with sweet potato


There are lots of other ways to wrap food too:

Or try using a Bread Dough as the parcel like BRAISED LAMB PARCELS with tomato, pepper, olive

As an Aussie I've also included a recipe for PAPERBARK PARCEL Smoked Vegetables by Benjamin Christie

Or why not consider trying LOTUS LEAF RICE

What are your favourites parcels?


  1. Hi Bec,
    I've awarded you the 'Kreativ blogger' award!
    Come around & have a look :)



  2. This works fine with peeled asparagus as well. Just add some salt, sugar and pepper (or Harissa) plus common sorrel (if you like). It's fantastic.

  3. We do tilapia on a bed of tomatoes and topped with garlic, s&p, and lime wheels.