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The Coolest Way to Cook Fish (It’s Not What You Think!)

Created January 23, 2020
fish and vegetables being cooked in parchment paper
Put away your aluminum foil. Pack up your skillet. And don’t even think about firing up that grill! Keep reading to see why we’re obsessed with the ancient cooking technique of en papillote.

What is en Papillote?

En Papillote is not a new cooking technique, but we think it is an under-appreciated one. Essentially the grandmother to the foil pack, en papillote translates to “in paper” in French. Simply put, it’s the process of cooking inside a paper packet. We’re obsessed with this method for a few reasons:

  • By cooking inside an envelope, all the moisture stays trapped inside, a.k.a. the perfect environment for creating soft, moist, flaky fish
  • Cooking in parchment paper is more earth-friendly than cooking in aluminum foil, as parchment paper can be composted and will break down over time
  • The clean-up is crazy-easy—just toss the paper when you’re done
  • It’s an effortlessly fancy way to cook, so any dinner guests you have over will be instantly impressed
  • Once your food comes out of the oven, you get to unwrap it, like a present—and who doesn’t love presents?

How to Cook en Papillote

To cook in paper, first you’ll need the obvious: some paper! Parchment paper without a wax coating is the best option for cooking en papillote. You can technically use aluminum foil to create a steamy baking environment too, but that’s dabbling in foil pack territory, technically.

Grease the Paper

brushing butter on parchment paper

Lay your parchment paper on a flat surface and grease the paper by either coating in melted butter or spraying with non-stick cooking spray. This step is less important with fattier proteins like salmon, but a little butter is going to make everything taste better, and will make it easier to close the paper packet.

Load it Up

adding salmon, tomatoes, lemon, and peppers on top of parchment paper

On one half of the paper, create a pile of your ingredients. You want to place them on one half only, as the other half of the paper will need to fold over to close the envelope. It’s always a good idea to add herbs, spices and salt to your food before closing up the envelope—that way, all the flavors can marry as they cook in the oven. Try a sprig of a fresh herb like rosemary, dill or sage. Add chopped veggies like onion, bell pepper or mushrooms. And don’t forget a dash of salt. To create even more steam inside the envelope, extra liquids like wine or lemon juice can be added. Before adding extra liquids, consider how “wet” your other ingredients are and how that liquid might release during cooking. You want to steam your food, not sweat it out.

How to Fold an en Papillote Packet

There are two common methods for folding a packet: the envelope method and the heart-shaped method.

sealing the parchment paper with the envelope method

The Envelope Method: This method starts with a large rectangle-shaped piece of parchment paper, with all of the ingredients gathered on one half of the paper. Once you’ve laid out your ingredients, fold the paper in half, then fold the edges up tightly. If your paper is not sealing or staying shut, you can also tie them in place with bakers’ twine, as you would a present.

brushing butter on parchment onto rough heart shape

The Heart-Shaped Method: This method starts by cutting a piece of parchment paper into a rough “heart shape.” The easiest way to create this shape is to fold a piece of parchment paper in half, then cut half a heart along the open side of the folded paper. Unfold, dress in butter and place ingredients.

folding food into parchment using heart method

To seal a heart-shaped packet, start at the “top” of the heart, folding the edges of the paper down. The second fold will fold over the end of the first, then the third fold will fold over the end of the second, and so on. Essentially, each fold catches the tail-end of the last fold, creating a more secure packet.

Bake It

Transfer your packets to a baking sheet and cook at 350º until done—a medium-sized fish filet should take about 20 minutes. When ready to serve, unfold or cut into the paper packets and enjoy. Be careful when you’re opening them up, as there will be hot steam trapped inside!

What to Cook in Paper

The en papillote method works best with seafood: salmon, tripe, shrimp, etc. Vegetables also cook beautifully in paper, especially those that can be tough, like potatoes. White meat like chicken can also be cooked in paper, but the temperature of the oven will need to be increased—be sure to verify a safe temperature has been reached by checking the temperature with a meat thermometer.