The other balancing act is timing. This is a technique for gamblers; you get no second chance once you declare it done. Luckily, the amount of moisture makes this pretty much as low-risk as playing a video game rather than blackjack; if something is overcooked, the liquid will salvage it. Chances of undercooking are slim; most foods cooked this way can also be eaten raw.
Oven temperature is key, though. Like a souffle, papillote needs a fast, strong burst to inflate. A setting of 350 degrees will yield packets as flat as a cake. At least 450 degrees will provide jet propulsion.
Although the very rigid French get most of the credit for cooking en papillote, the Italians are just as much puff masters from way back. They call the technique cartoccio, and they use it most famously with a whole snapper paired with an array of shellfish in the shell. Having tried it a couple of times, I think it's living too dangerously. You open it, you own it if it's not quite cooked.
Beyond that, one of the beauties of serving food en papillote is that it's simply designed to be done in individual portions. Each is like a gift on every plate, with its own little show in the unfolding.
Summer fruit en papillote
Total time: 20 minutes
Note: If you want a sweeter, more liquid sauce, add half a cup of raspberries or blackberries. Leave some space between the fruit and the crimped edge to allow the packet to puff up.
4 tablespoons melted butter plus extra for the parchment
4 medium peaches or 6 apricots, ripe but firm and sliced
1 cup blueberries
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4teaspoon ground cloves
1/4teaspoon ground allspice
Ice cream or whipped cream (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut 4 sheets of baking parchment into 15- by 12-inch pieces. Fold each in half and cut into the shape of half a heart. Unfold to reveal a whole heart and brush butter onto one side of each sheet along the fold in the middle where the fruit will be placed. Set aside.
2. Combine the remaining butter, the peaches or apricots, blueberries, sugar, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and ginger in bowl and toss to mix well.
3. Divide the fruit mixture among the four parchment hearts, placing fruit along the fold on one side of the heart. Fold the sheets over and crimp the edges tightly to seal completely. Lay the packets on a baking sheet.
3. Bake until the parchment packets puff up and the fruit gives off juices, about 10 minutes. Transfer each packet to a plate and slit open with a sharp knife. Top with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.
Each serving (without ice cream or whipped cream): 217 calories; 1 gram protein; 30 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 12 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 31 mg. cholesterol; 10 mg. sodium.
Scallops nicoise en papillote
Total time: 25 minutes
Note: Leave some space between the scallops and the crimped edge to allow the packet to puff up.
4 teaspoons olive oil plus extra for parchment
4 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4cup nicoise olives, pitted and chopped
Coarse sea salt and black pepper to taste
16 fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
16 sea scallops (about
1 1/3 pounds)
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut out 4 sheets of parchment paper measuring 15 by 12 inches. Fold in half and cut into the shape of half a heart. Brush each sheet lightly with oil along the fold on one side of the heart. Set aside.
2. Drain the tomatoes well to remove as much liquid as possible. Combine with the garlic and olives and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Divide the mixture among the sheets of parchment, placing the mixture along the fold on one side of the heart. Place 2 basil leaves on top of each mound of tomatoes followed by 4 scallops. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil on each and season with salt and pepper. Divide the remaining basil leaves among the mounds.
4. Fold one side of the parchment packets over and crimp the edges tightly to seal completely. Place the packets on a baking sheet.
5. Bake until the packets puff up and the contents bubble, about 15 minutes. Transfer the packets to serving plates and slit each open with a sharp knife. Serve immediately.
Each serving: 158 calories; 14 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 8 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 24 mg. cholesterol; 225 mg. sodium.
Shiitakes and corn en papillote
Total time: 30 minutes
Note: The mounded mushroom mixture will seem like a lot per person but will shrink during baking. Leave some space between the mushrooms and the crimped edge to allow room for the packet to puff up.
2 large ears fresh corn, kernels removed
3/4pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, wiped clean and cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut 4 sheets of baking parchment into 15- by 12-inch pieces. Fold each piece in half and cut into the shape of half a heart. Open to reveal a whole heart and brush each sheet lightly with olive oil along the fold in the middle. Set aside.
2. Combine the corn kernels, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, wine and cream in large bowl and toss to mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Divide the mixture among the parchment sheets, mounding along the fold on one side of the heart. Fold the parchment over and tightly crimp the edges to seal completely. Transfer to a baking sheet.
3. Bake 30 minutes. Transfer to serving plates and slit open just before serving. Serve immediately.
Each serving: 281 calories; 5 grams protein; 21 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 17 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 61 mg. cholesterol; 49 mg. sodium.