A while ago I had to attend a pain management programme in which as a group we had to prepare lunch together using the few tools that we were taught to help us dealing with our chronic pain problems. To do so, I thought that cooking a dish “en papillote” would be the best option for us. It is simple, quick and manageable even for people with chronic pain who can have serious problems standing, staying in the same position for a long period of time, using their arms or hands. The other good thing with this technique is that it can be prepared in advance and it requires a minimum of attention.

So there are the principles of cooking in papillote.

The way a papillote works is that all the ingredients cook together, in their own steam, in a casing made of tin foil and parchment. This cooking technique has the advantage to be healthy. To make sure to get it right you must keep in mind how long the main ingredient, which could be meat, fish, vegetables, cooked pasta, cheese, fruits, etc, will take to cook. You will have to cut your vegetables, accordingly and/or part-cook them first.

So, let’s say that we are making a papillote containing a chicken breast. A medium sized breast of chicken off the bone and seared will require about 20 minutes of cooking, plus ten more minutes to bring the parcel to the right temperature. During my pain management program we cooked a medium-sized chicken breast with some baby potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, courgettes, shallots, fresh herbs and garlic. So, to make sure that the potatoes would be cooked we had to cut them in three pieces, the courgettes were cut no more than one centimetre thick but not smaller than half a centimetre. The peppers had to be cut in dices no more that a couple of centimetre aside.

Now, if we had used a medium size piece of salmon, for example, the cooking time would have been only ten minutes. Then our vegetables would have had to be cut into smaller pieces. Well, I am sure that you get the gist of it.

The other very important thing is to make sure that the casing is tightly sealed. So to achieve that you can brush the edge of the tin foil with a little bit of egg white that will seal any gaps when cooking. Failing to seal your parcel properly will lead to the food cooking unevenly, some drying out and/or burning. Another problem that can arise is to damage the parcel when manipulating it. So, extreme care is necessary when putting them in the oven.

Another little tip is to put a couple of spoons of liquid (water, stock, wine, etc) into the bag before closing it. This will increase the steam into the parcel and allow the ingredients to cook evenly and compensate for any loss of steam during the cooking process. It will also bring its own flavour to the dish.

Now, enough talking, more cooking!

Recipe for a chicken with Mediterranean vegetables en papillote:

  • 1 Chicken breast, off the bone, skin off
  • ½ a courgette
  • ¼ of a pepper
  • 1 small shallot
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 6 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 baby potatoes
  • a teaspoon of freshly chopped thyme, marjoram, rosemary, oregano and summer savoury mix
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon of Greek extra olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of medium dry white wine
  • a sheet of tin foil large enough to contain all the ingredients (45cmx30cm)
  • a small sheet of parchment
  • 1 egg white

First, sear your chicken breast until golden brown. Then, slice the courgette in pieces a centimetre thick; dice the pepper in the same way. Finely slice the garlic and shallot. Peel the potatoes and slice them (about 1/2cm thick). Wash the cherry tomatoes.

Put your sheet of tin foil flat on a clean surface. Place the piece of parchment in the middle. Place the slices of potatoes on it, then the courgettes and peppers. Sprinkle the garlic and shallots on the top of it as well as the fresh herbs. Season well. Finally, place your breast of chicken on the top of the vegetables. Then add the wine, olive oil and cherry tomatoes.

The next step is to close the parcel. Brush a little bit of egg white around the edges of the tin foil. Lift the tin foil length wise and make it stick. Then, start folding it down, tightly 4 or 5 times. You must leave some space for the parcel to expand. So, do not fold all the way down.

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 200˚C for 30 minutes.

Serve as it is, but before that the bag starts collapsing. Like a soufflé.

Use this recipe as an example. Almost everything can be cooked in a papillote, just let your imagination guide you.

There are few great combinations that I invite you to try out:

  • Shoulder of lamb, garlic, rosemary, potatoes and a hint of cumin (caraway)
  • Salmon, garlic, thyme, lemon, Sichuan pepper and lemon
  • Seafood, white fish pieces, leeks, carrots, celery, lemon, coriander
  • Corn fed chicken, onion, baby potatoes, and truffles
  • Smoked haddock, baby potatoes, milk, spring onions and cumin
  • Lemon sole, mushrooms, tomatoes, tarragon and a dash of medium dry white wine
  • Pork chop, red onion marmalade, sweet potatoes
  • Lamb shin, aubergine caviar, garlic, potatoes
  • Slice of ham, pineapple, rum and brown sugar
  • Lamb shoulder, olives, tomatoes, courgettes, garlic and mixed herbs
  • Apple, cinnamon, dark rum and brown sugar
  • And my old favourite a whole banana, dark bitter chocolate