The Italians call it al cartoccio, and the French call it en papillote, but whatever you call it, this method is a classic quick and gentle cooking technique for roasting or steaming vegetables, some seafood, or some poultry in a parcel or pouch.
The pouches are typically made using kitchen parchment paper, foil, both. However, you could use a brown kraft paper bag, or as in other cuisines, banana leaves, grape leaves, or corn husks for example.
The main ingredient assembled and wrapped in the pouch will take on the character of the seasonings, fresh herbs, marinades, or the vegetables that are paired with it for the cooking. The combinations are virtually endless and offer the home cook many possibilities to be creative with mixing and matching flavor combinations. The end result is a perfectly cooked dish, which requires very little work, cooks quickly but gently, and always produces a flavorful sauce that can be spooned over the finished dish when plated.
For a little drama, the actual pouches can be opened tableside making a different plating presentation, along with filling the room with the fragrance of the dish as the steam escapes when the pouch is cut.
My favorite ingredients to use in this cooking manner are various seafood and vegetables. In the example I am sharing with you in this post I actually combined seafood and vegetables to illustrate the technique.
I am lucky enough to have a neighbor who goes ocean fishing every chance he gets and fortunately I have been the beneficiary of some of his catch so that’s what I used this time. Combined with the beautiful fillet were the first of the season’s cherry tomatoes from a local farm and well as a batch of spring onions from another.
As you might imagine the tomatoes were not quite ready with the kind of flavor realized from vine-ripened tomatoes later in the summer season. To help them along, I slow roasted them for about 3 hours with the spring onions, sprig cuttings from my herb garden, and a little olive oil, which resulted in more flavorful tomatoes and a sauce that was then used with the fish fillet in the pouch.
Consider the following recipe a guide for preparing food cooked in a pouch.
1 to 1¼ pound, 1-inch thick fish fillet (skin on or removed), cut in half
1 bunch vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch spring onions, halved lengthwise
Fresh herb sprigs (in this recipe I used, thyme, lemon balm, mint)
Salt and pepper
Kitchen parchment paper cut into pieces approximately 15 x 24, then folded in half to 12 x 15 (Note: In some recipes you might be instructed to cut the parchment into the shape of a heart, but that is not necessary to the success of this cooking method)
Cut the parchment paper and set aside.
In a roasting pan or ovenproof dish add the onions and the tomatoes, sprinkle lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper, and top with the fresh herb sprigs, pushing them down into the tomatoes. Cover the dish and roast in a 250-degree oven for 3 hours.
When the tomatoes are ready and cool enough to handle, remove the herb sprigs, and place the spring onions and some of the tomato just off center within the folded parchment paper. Place a fillet on top of those vegetables and spoon some additional tomatoes and the roasting sauce over the top. Salt and pepper to taste.
Now comes the tricky part! First, using a brush or a spoon, run a little sauce around the outer edges of the parchment paper so that when folded it adheres to itself. Starting at one corner make a short diagonal fold in and tightly crease it. Repeat the process moving all around the open sides of the parchment paper, making tight short folds with sharp creases until the pouch is sealed. The pouch should be completely sealed so that the steam cannot escape.
Preheat the oven to 400 to 450 degrees and place the pouches on a sheet pan large enough to hold them without overlapping. Depending upon the thickness of the fillet, bake for up to 40 minutes, then remove from the oven allowing the pouches to rest for a few minutes.
The dish can either be served in the pouches, simply cutting open the top the reveal the ingredients and sauce inside, or using a spatula lift the fillet and vegetables onto the plate and pour the sauce over.
This is a dish that can be made all season long, taking advantage of all the fresh produce and herbs available and pairing them with your favorite seafood or other ingredients that benefit from cooking in this manner. Actually, it is a cooking technique that can be adapted to seasonal ingredients all year long. Once you try it a few times you will appreciate the creativity and probably become adept at paper folding as well!
Eat well. Be well.
A simple preparation of extremely fresh ingredients is the secret of truly elegant eating.