We're adding more fish into our diets in my house, but I don't have time for complicated recipes on weeknights, which are the only nights my sons are home anymore to share a family dinner. So I'm turning to a tried and true, simple way to cook flavorful fish: packet cooking.
Packet cooking happens to be trendy right now, so there are plenty of recipes online for all sorts of dishes. You'll often see recipes calling for foil packets made from aluminum foil, but most packet recipes that are cooked in the oven can also be done in parchment paper. In fact, before there was aluminum foil, all packet cooking was done in parchment. It's a common method in French cooking, known as en papillote.
Cooking with packets is popular because it makes for easy cleanup. Everything goes into one packet — or several, if you're doing individual servings — and when you're done, you can recycle the aluminum foil or toss the parchment. Except for the baking tray that should be placed under the packets during cooking, there are no pots or pans to clean after dinner. They're also great for company because they can be assembled ahead of time and popped in the oven when company arrives, leaving you free to be with your guests instead of in the kitchen.
Whether you're cooking in parchment paper or aluminum foil, the set up is the same. Cut a piece large enough to fold into a sealed packet after you've put all the ingredients on it.
If you do better with visual instructions, the short video above demonstrates how to fold parchment, and the same method can be used with foil.
When to use foil
There are valid reasons why you may not want to cook with aluminum foil, including the fact that you don't want to ingest aluminum. Sometimes packet cooking requires aluminum foil. If you're cooking a packet recipe under any of these specific conditions, you'll need to use foil:
- Cooking on the grill. Parchment can't withstand the heat from many grills.
- Cooking in an oven above 425 degrees.
- If you're cooking something particularly moist and juicy. There's a chance that the parchment may leak and tear, and you'll lose the moisture needed for the dish.
When to use parchment paper
Use parchment paper when it's called for in a recipe or substitute for foil any time you're using the oven below 425 degrees, providing you're not cooking something particularly liquidy. Buy unbleached parchment paper and you won't have to worry about it being contaminated with chlorine.
1. Lemon Garlic Chicken Parchment Packets: This recipe makes four individual chicken packets with the vegetables cooked right in each packet. With simple ingredients and fresh veggies such as summer squash and cherry tomatoes, along with boneless chicken breast or thighs, these take about 20 minutes to cook in the oven.
Instead of using one pan for the shrimp, one for the sausage and separate pots for the potatoes and corn, making this dish in a packet saves a lot of cleanup after dinner. (Photo: freeskyline/Shutterstock)
2. Shrimp Boil Foil Packets: This paired-down version of a Low Country Boil that can end up using most of the pots and pans in your kitchen (but is so worth it) does away with the mess. Shrimp, andouille sausage, corn and potatoes go into a packet with seasonings and comes out of the oven in about 15-17 minutes (or off a grill in 12-15 minutes).
3. Indian Spiced Baked Potatoes Egg Foil Packets: Doing potatoes in a foil packet is common, but eggs? This gluten-free, vegetarian recipe shows you how it's done: Open the mostly cooked packets, add an egg, and cook for another 10 minutes so the yolk will run all over the potatoes. Yum.
4. Garlic Butter Mushroom and Gnocchi in Foil: Another vegan meal, and other thing you might not think of using a foil packet for: gnocchi. The potato pasta and mushrooms are drizzled with garlic and butter before being closed up in the packet. Quick and simple. An added couple of minutes at the end under the broiler will crisp it up, but as long as everything is cooked through, you could skip that step.
5. Summer Fruit Papillotes with Lavender Ice Cream: Dessert can be done in parchment, too. Apricots, cherries, raspberries, mulberries and strawberries are tossed with sugar and vanilla bean and put into individual parchment packets to bake in the oven. After they come out of the oven, they sit for about 10 minutes before being topped with lavender or vanilla ice cream. These would be a perfect dessert for a small dinner party. Prepare the papillotes ahead of time, pop them in the oven 30 minutes before you're ready for dessert, and voila!