“En papillote” refers to a cooking method where ingredients – often including fish – are placed in a bag made of parchment paper before being baked in an oven. The packet can also contain veggies, butter, fresh herbs, a slice of lemon, etc. As it cooks, the bag is filled with steam that infuses the meat with the flavours of the seasonings and vegetables.
The reasons for doing this are relatively simple. By sealing in steam as it cooks, the fish comes out moist, tender and flaky, not tough or dry. It also allows the flavours of other ingredients in the parchment bag to combine together within the confined space, leading to a more complete intermingling of flavours.
Note that you should use parchment paper, not waxed paper, for your en papillote bag. You can usually find parchment paper in the same aisle as aluminum foil, cling wrap and, yes, waxed paper. If you’ve never used it before, parchment paper is a handy thing to have in the kitchen. It’s a type of specially treated non-stick paper that can withstand heat (check the packaging for specific heat limits), and is commonly used in baking.
Once cooked, these food-filled bags can be placed directly on a diner’s plate, where they are cut open for eating. It’s both a practical cooking technique and a lovely way to add some presentation flourish to a special meal.
For a recipe, try our Fish Florentine En Papillote
(click for recipe), which also has an explanation of the method for making an en papillote bag out of parchment paper.