Dinner in a Care Package

by Kelly on May 6, 2010   

The whole meal in one lovely little packet

I had lost track of this cooking method for some years until a couple of weeks ago. Melissa Clark wrote about cooking asparagus in parchment in the New York Times, and it was like running into an old friend. I had gone through a period of heavy experimentation with cooking en papillote — in a parchment pouch — but I’d filed it in the deep drawer, so to speak. Cooking this way can be so satisfying. It is limited only by your tastebuds, it’s easy to clean up, can be low fat, and it absolutely complements fresh ingredients by heightening rather than hiding their flavor.

Parchment paper used to be somewhat difficult to get your hands on, usually requiring a trip to the cookware store. That may be why I experimented heavily some years back (when I worked in a cookware store) and why it fell by the wayside (when I didn’t). Reynolds now makes parchment paper rolls, widely available in most grocery stores.

Classic en papillote cooking is done in a very hot oven (400°F) for a very short time (10 minutes). The well folded edges keep in the air, which works like a pressure cooker inside the packet. Here I’ve used low heat (200°F) for a long period (1 hour), which I think is lovely and keeps things tender and juicy. I plan on getting back into experimentation, though, so I’ll be writing more about it. I want to try sweet things, and I also remember making packets that were individual servings, which guests got to break open at the table. I’ll definitely be returning with more on this subject!

I started out with a whole chicken breast — a rather large one — that needed to be split into two half breasts and then further cut down. I will continue to carp about overly large chicken breasts until producers do something about it. The flavor and texture just aren’t quite as good, even if it is organic or free-range. Anyway, I wanted to combine my chicken with what I had on hand, and that leaned toward Asian flavors since I had fresh ginger, shitake mushrooms and asparagus. I made rice to go with it, but nearly the entire meal is contained in the packet.

Many, many combinations will work

Chicken Breasts Cooked in Parchment | 4 servings

2 large or 4 small chicken breasts halves, boneless and skinless
3 large shitake mushrooms
2 or 3 green onions
12 asparagus spears
3 carrots
1 slice prosciutto
1 large garlic clove
1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Salt
8 sprigs fresh cilantro, plus some for garnish

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Beginning on the thick end of the half breast and holding the knife blade parallel to the board, cut the breast into two equal pieces.

Give your knife a good sharp edge before splitting the breasts this way

Slice the shitake mushrooms. Trim and chop the white part of the green onions and several inches of the green. Trim the bottom of the asparagus spears and with a vegetable peeler, peel the bottom third of each spear. Trim, peel and slice the carrots lengthwise into sticks. Chop the prosciutto. Peel and smash the garlic. Peel and thinly slice the ginger into matchstick pieces.

Have everything all ready before putting it all together on the paper

Tear off a piece of parchment twice as long as a baking sheet. Lay the chicken in a single layer down the length of the parchment. On top of the chicken place the asparagus, carrots, mushrooms, prosciutto, garlic, and ginger.

This will be a long, narrow packet, so leave plenty of room on the sides to bring the paper up together to fold

Drizzle the olive oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame over the top. Toss with your hands to coat.

Olive oil may seem wrong with Asian flavors but I like its depth

You don't really have to measure...

Coat the vegetables and chicken well and then pile the vegetables back on top

Sprinkle with salt. Distribute the chopped green onions evenly and place the cilantro sprigs on top.

This dish is fun to make

The cilantro won't be pretty when it's cooked but it adds wonderful flavor

Bring the long sides of the paper together and crease and fold over on each other. Then crease and fold again and staple.

The goal is for a tight seal

Melissa Clark is to thank for the stapler idea

Crease and fold up the ends of the paper several times. Staple the ends.

The package is now ready for, if not the US mail, then the oven

Place the packet on a baking sheet and cook for 1 hour in the preheated oven.

The paper has barely colored in such a low oven

Just before serving, tear open the paper and remove the cilantro. Serve over rice with the accumulated juices.

Spoon the juices right over the top

Even better than those care packages you used to get at camp.

Kelly McCune © 2010
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Barry Franklin May 12, 2010 at 11:47 am

Hi Kelly,

Never thought of a stapler. Guess that does away with serving it in the parchment, but probably seals well. Thanks!

Barry

Kelly May 12, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Yes, there is a much more attractive way to fold the edges over each other — I may do that in another post!

Barry Franklin May 27, 2010 at 11:09 am

Kelly,

I’ve tried it three times. For all three, I shopped without a list, so there was usually something missing. I have noticed that a too-thick breast (this one was Free-Range) did not cook through in an hour. The organic ones, a quarter inch thinner or so, worked perfectly. The asparagus was too al dente for our bites, so I replaced it with extremely large zucchini sticks, worked well. Perhaps thinner stalks would be better, but they seem to have less taste despite their gorgeous appearance. I hadn’t done anything in parchment or foil in so long, this was a great suggestion, many thanks.

Melinda says “hi”.

Barry

Kelly May 27, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Hi Barry — yes, I split the breasts, especially the overly endowed ones. I don’t know why there is this trend to build a bigger chicken. I’m glad you experimented without a list, because this technique works for so many combinations. The other day I threw a handful of couscous in with some chopped vegetables and herbs, and in an hour I had a great lunch. Cheers!

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