Monday, June 26, 2006

Cooking in a bag

The French call it En Papillote, the Italians call it cartoccio, and it's got to be the wildest (& easiest) cooking methods ever. You basically chuck all your ingredients into a bag & bake it. What this means is that minimal fat, if any is needed since all the ingredients, sealed tightly in the bag, steam in their own juices, mingling the flavors. You get this natural, healthy sauce from cooking your meat or fish in the same bag as your veggies & herbs. It's amazing. The bonus is that there's hardly any washing up after (just toss the used bags into the wastebasket).

Classically the packets are made with parchment paper. You can substitute tin foil, but you'll have to handle it with extra care as foil punctures easily, and you don't want to use foil if you've got acidic mixtures in the food, like tomatoes sprinkled with vinegar, as the foil may react with it. Parchment paper isn't that much more expensive, and you'll find it in the same grocery section as the foil. Go with the'll make you look oh so gourmet hehehe.

You serve each person his own packet on a plate, and they cut it open or you cut it open for them. Watch them ooh and ahh when the amazing aromas come steaming out. You could conceivably make bigger bags for more people but getting the cooking time right might get a little tricksy.

Here's something I did with fish & couscous but really, you can put just about anything in a bag. The key is to have food that's gonna give off some moisture, and to cut up the food into reasonably small pieces so they cook all the way through. Seafood pasta lends itself well to this method, as would sliced meat or chicken on rice or whatever, I should think.

Fish Fillet & Couscous "En Papillote"

  • couscous (How much, you ask? Well I don't know, how much do you wanna eat? The spices here are enough for 6 packets, each containing about a cup and a half cooked couscous)
  • zucchini and carrot, shredded
  • a good-sized onion, chopped
  • 1 lemon, shave or grate the zest off, then slice thinly
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • as many fish fillets as you have people (the spices listed are for roughly 6)
  • as many bay leaves as you have fish fillets
  • chopped or sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Cut a 10-inch sheet of parchment or foil for each guest, and put a fold down the middle. In a bowl, plunk together the couscous, the broth, the veggies, zest from your lemon, the spices, and half the salt. Feel free to give it a splash of white wine. Stir it around a bit to blend. Divide the mixture among your paper packets (Just spoon it onto the middle). Place the fish on top and sprinkle with the pepper & remaining salt. Top with a lemon slice, a bay leaf, and toss on some almonds. Fold the packet up (making sure it's well sealed), put them on a baking sheet and bake for maybe 15 minutes. Serve with some crunchy salad.

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