Surprises in Parchment Paper
(Surprises en papillote)
This Sunday Supper is more about technique than about a specific recipe, though you'll
find a few recipe suggestions listed as starter ideas. Once you've mastered the technique
of wrapping in parchment paper, you'll be able to whip up
many versions of Sunday suppers "en papillote" to impress your family and
- this style of cooking requires very little oil so it's a healthy way
- packets are tightly sealed so cooking juices don't run out;
- seasonings are "steamed" into morsels inside the packet, intensifying their
- packets are baked in a hot oven so they cook in a few minutes;
- packets are served directly on the dinner plate;
- no cooking mess to clean up and no serving plates to wash!
Because cooking in parchment is French, people think of it as a "fancy" dish.
You can let your family and friends think this as they as the praise your Sunday Supper
creativity. It's a dream dish for dinner parties because the packets can be prepared ahead
of time and popped into the oven while you're having a first course. No muss -- no fuss!
The only tricky part is learning how to cut the parchment paper into heart shapes for
stuffing and how to seal the package by folding the edges over each other.
Tear off about 15" of parchment paper from the roll and fold it in half (folding
the left half over the right). Make a sharp crease along the folded edge.
- Hold the folded edge in your left hand and with scissors cut it into the largest
valentine heart-shape can you using this size paper. Start cutting the tip of the heart in
the lower left (at the fold) and work up to the top edge of the fold, shaping the heart.
- When you open up the paper, it should roughly resemble a heart shape. It's not important
that the shape be precise.
- Lay the opened paper on your work surface with the tip closest to you and arrange the
stuffing of your choice on the right half of the heart mid-way between the top and bottom
points and close to the middle crease. (Your stuffing should be only large enough for a
single-person serving and should leave about 2-3" around the edges for folding.)
- Fold the left side over the right side and align them.
- Now begin the sealing process (practice on a plain piece of paper to perfect your
Starting at the top of fold, fold down a 1/4 " of paper, about 1" long (keeping
the top and bottom sheets aligned as much as possible). Moving to the right along the
curve of the heart, make a second similar fold, covering about 2/3's of the first fold.
Using this technique, repeat the folding, following the entire curve of the heart to the
tip. If you have done this correctly, you'll have about a tail extending about 1"
beyond the tip. Bring the tail around the fold and fold it under so the weight of the
packet keeps it secure.
Stuffings - Variations on a Theme:
In San Francisco, salmon is available year-round so I've chosen
it to show how versatile and flexible the parchment paper technique can be. Using the same
main ingredient, you can create totally different flavors based on seasonal vegetables
that are available.
Proportions in the following recipes are for 2 persons. Allow 1/3 lb. of salmon fillet
per person, preferably with the skin removed.
(on a bed of leek ragout
with an anchovy lemon butter sauce)
1. Prepare the leeks as follows:
- Cut off the tough green top of 4 large leeks. Cut the remaining white portion into
2" lengths and julienne each piece using a knife.
- Sauté the leeks in butter in a covered saucepan on low heat for about 30 minutes. Add a
little water if they begin to brown. Watch closely so they don't burn.
2. Prepare the anchovy lemon butter as follows:
- Rinse 4 anchovy fillets in hot water.
- In a "mini-chop"processor , add 2 TBS butter (at room temperature) and the
rinsed anchovy fillets. Process until they becomes a smooth puree. (This can also be done
- Slowly add 2 TBS lemon juice and continue to process until the mixture becomes a soft
3. Divide the leeks into 2 portions and spread over the parchment paper. Lay the salmon
fillet on top of the leeks. Don't salt salmon; the anchovy lemon butter will give off more
than enough salt.
4. Top each salmon fillet with of anchovy lemon butter.
5. Fold and seal the edges.
(on a bed of summer vegetables
1. Prepare ribbons of orange, yellow and green vegetables as follows:
- Using a mandolin, julienne 1 medium-size carrot, 2 small summer squash and one
- Put all the julienned vegetables into a non-corroding colander and sprinkle heavily with
salt. Set to drain for at least 30 minutes. (This will extract excess water from the
- After 30 minutes, thoroughly rinse the vegetables with water and squeeze
them by the handful to get out as much water as you can. They should be a little limp
because of the water that has been extracted.
- Mix them with some chopped dill and a little salt and pepper.
2. Divide the vegetable ribbons in 2 equal portions and spread on the prepared
3. Lay the salmon fillet on top of the vegetables. Drizzle with a little olive oil and
1 TBS vermouth or a Riesling-type wine.
4. Fold and seal the edges.
(on a bed of stewed onions
with a tomato and red pepper coulis)
1. Prepare a tomato and red pepper coulis as follows:
- Peel, seed and chop 2 large tomatoes.
- Roast 1 large sweet red pepper under the broiler until it is black. Sweat it in a
plastic or paper bag, then peel and seed. Coarsely chop.
- In a saucepan, cook the pepper and tomatoes in a few TBS of olive oil until they are
reduced to a thick sauce. Add 2-3 TBS raspberry or strawberry
2. Prepare the onions as follows:
- Thinly slice 2 large onions using a mandolin. Sauté them in olive oil over medium heat
until they have "melted down" to a thick consistency. This will take about 30-45
minutes. Don't let the onions burn. Stir them almost continuously.
3. Divide the onions into 2 portions and spread them over the parchment. Lay the salmon
fillet on top of the onions and top the fillet with the tomato/red pepper coulis. To allow
the sweetness of the onions and tomato/pepper coulis come through, it's best not to salt
the salmon at this stage.
4. Fold and seal the edges.
(on a bed of Napa or Savoy cabbage
with black bean sauce)
1. Prepare the cabbage as follows:
- Wash 4-6 leaves of the cabbage. Cut them into thin ribbons. Put into a colander and
sprinkle heavily with salt. Set to drain for 30 minutes. (This will extract excess water
from the cabbage.)
- After 30 minutes, thoroughly rinse the cabbage with water and squeeze it
by the handful to get out as much water as you can. The cabbage should be a quite limp
because of the amount of water that has been extracted.
2. Prepare the black bean topping as follows:
- Soak 2 TBS Chinese black beans in very hot water for about 15
minutes, then drain and finely chop.
- Finely chop 3 green onions and mix with the chopped black beans.
- Cut 8 very, very thin slices of fresh garlic.
3. Assemble as follows:
- Divide the cabbage into 2 portions and arrange each portion on the parchment paper. Lay
the salmon fillet on top of the cabbage and top the fillet with the black bean sauce and
sliced garlic. The black beans will give off enough salt. Don't add any more.
4. Fold and seal the edges.
- Put all the wrapped parchment packets on a cookie s
- eet. If you are not baking them immediately, you can set them aside for several hours as
long as your stuffing is not too watery. If your stuffing is watery, you should cook them
soon after wrapping. Parchment paper will generally hold up to a fair amount of moisture,
but try not to put it to its ultimate test.
- Bake the packets in a pre-heated 450 deg oven for about 5-8 minutes, depending on the
thickness of your fish. The parchment paper should be puffed up and beginning to brown.
Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
- Put one packet on each individual plate and snip a 1/2" cross into the top of the
parchment paper. Let each person tear open their own parchment from there so they can
capture the first whiffs of fragrance coming from their packet.
- Because the packet generally fills the dinner plate, you'll probably have to serve your
accompanying rice or potatoes in a side dish or have each person open their parchment
packet wide enough to serve the rice or potatoes directly into the packet to sop up the
- Parchment Paper: This can be found in most
well-stocked grocery stores, usually in the kitchenware section. It's sold in a roll like
wax paper and is sometimes sold as a cookie sheet liner. Aluminum foil or other kinds of
paper won't work for this technique -- regular paper will burn and aluminum foil will
detract from the delicacy of this type of cooking.
- Oil: Try to use one of the very lightest olive oils you can
find so it won't overpower the delicate flavor of the salmon.
- Salmon: Any kind of salmon is fine for these recipes. But if
fresh salmon is not available in your area year-round, you can also substitute other fish
or thin fillets of chicken.
- Strawberry vinegar: Though raspberry vinegar is
now readily available in most grocery stores, it's unlikely that you'll be able to find
strawberry vinegar. After searching through most of the specialty shops in San Francisco,
I resorted to making my own when strawberries were in season. For 1 pt. of good white wine
vinegar, you'll need 1 pt. of strawberries. To get an intense strawberry flavor, you
should infuse the vinegar twice as follows:
- Place the strawberries and vinegar in a ceramic container with a lid and let them steep
together for 4-5 days.
- Remove the strawberries and put a batch of new berries in for the second infusion. The
vinegar should be ready after another 4-5 days.
- Chinese black beans: These are found in Chinese grocery
stores in vacuum sealed plastic packages. Due to their intense flavor, these beans are
used in very small quantities. They're quite salty even after soaking, so you shouldn't
add any more salt to the dish. Once opened, they can be stored indefinitely in the
refrigerator in a tightly sealed glass jar.