Don’t be fooled by the fancy-shmancy French up there: This is about as easy—and parent-friendly—as cooking gets. It’s so simple, I’ll toss a packet together for lunch on a weekday. And it’s so tasty even Stephen-the-fish-hater devours it. Seriously, if you can assemble, you can (and should) make this.
“En Papillote” means you’re cooking in a packet, usually made from parchment paper. The food essentially steams inside it, capturing and intensifying the flavors. That packet also means there’s very little cleanup—each serving gets its own pouch, which hits the oven on a rimmed baking sheet and is then transferred directly to the plate. Some juices may leak if you don’t seal the edges perfectly, but rinsing a baking sheet isn’t exactly work, is it?
And now, the really hard sell. Here’s why, if you’re not already cooking en papillote, you should be:
- The method is endlessly flexible: make a single serving, or enough for a party.
- The packets themselves can be assembled hours ahead of time (refrigerate if you’re more than 2 hours from cooking).
- As long as you cut the vegetables small and/or thin enough, you can use whatever’s languishing in the crisper.
- No good at chopping? Use pre-sliced vegetables from the supermarket. I won’t tell.
- Fish and boneless chicken both work beautifully here, cooking in 12 to 20 minutes. Yup, the mythical 30-minute meal, right there.
- Feel like going Asian rather than Mediterranean? Use a splash each of sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice vinegar instead of the herbs, olive oil, and lemon in the recipe below. In addition to baby spinach, toss in some slivered snow peas, chopped scallions, and sliced mushrooms.
- Going Mexican is the easiest of all: Use a tablespoon or two of good-quality salsa.
- Make some brown rice (go ahead, use the boil-in-bag—or better yet, Trader Joe’s frozen pre-cooked pouch) and your work is done.
Once you try this method, I have a feeling you’ll be itching to try it again. Luckily, there’s a newish blog devoted entirely to preparing food en papillote: No-Pot Cooking. It’s got everything from Chicken Tagine to Manicotti, all in self-contained packets, and Brette, the blogger, provides a good all-around tutorial.
Mediterranean Fish en Papillote
Serves 1, and multiplies well
Weight Watchers: Each serving is 6 PointsPlus
A handful of baby spinach
1 six-ounce fillet of white fish (I often use tilapia)
salt & pepper
1 tomato, sliced
6 small olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 peppadew pepper, roughly chopped (optional—you could also use a pepperoncini)
1 whole artichoke heart—frozen or jarred—cut into eighths
pinch of dried herbes de Provence (usually some combination of basil, fennel seed, lavender, rosemary, thyme, savory, and possibly more)
1 teaspoon flavorful olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Tear off an 18-inch long piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil (foil is actually easier to use, so don’t sweat it if you don’t have parchment), fold it in half, unfold, and place it on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Lay the baby spinach next to the crease, leaving several inches above and below. Place the fish on top, and season well with salt & pepper.
- Fan the tomato slices vertically on the fish, and scatter the olives, peppadew, and artichoke around it. Sprinkle with the dried herbs and the olive oil.
- Now, seal up the pouch: Fold the parchment over on top of the fish. Starting at the top inner corner, fold and crimp the edges approximately every quarter-inch, until you’ve created a half-moon. Be sure the folds are well-creased, to keep the steam from pushing the pouch open in the oven. It should look a lot like an empanada.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes (12 for thin fillets, 15 for thicker ones). Slide the packets directly onto the plates, and open carefully—there will be a lot of steam inside. Squeeze the lemon on top and serve.
MAKE BABY FOOD: The fish itself: perfect for babies. You can either puree a bit along with some of the vegetables and sauce, or serve as finger food (check carefully for bones, and I’d skip the artichoke hearts—seems like those leaves could be a little too challenging for the youngest eaters to chew). And peppadews can be surprisingly hot, so be sure to taste one before giving it to your baby.