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"En papillote" is a method of cooking. The food is wrapped up like an envelope, either in paper or aluminum foil, and then tightly sealed by crimping the edges of the paper. As the little packages bake, the heat inside the packages steams the ingredients, keeping all of the flavor and moisture inside. Because of this, little if any oil is needed to cook the food, which allows you to cook a meal that's healthy and light. Appearance-wise, one of the great things about this style of cooking is that each portion is individually wrapped, making it a snap to divvy up come serving time. And just out of the oven, the packets are puffed up from the steam like big pillows, the makings for a particularly awesome "voilà" moment at the dinner table. This is no casserole with a spoon slapped into it.
The only food that I've ever cooked en papillote has been fish, but since I was in the mood for a light chicken meal, I gave poultry a shot. To keep the preparation simple and the flavors fresh, I tossed together pieces of chicken breast, sliced peppers, onions, lemon, tomatoes, olive oil (just 2 tablespoons), and a fresh tasting Mediterranean spice mix called za'atar. I then divided the mixture between my sheets of parchment and crimped up the ends to form half moon-shaped packages. It's important to seal it tightly so that none of the juice escapes.
As with all papillote cooking, it's tough to know when the food it done since you can't see it. I was especially worried since I was dealing with chicken. No one wants a packet of raw chicken in front of them. I cut the chicken into even chunks and test baked one packet first. 20 minutes in the oven was all it took. Cut into the packages with kitchen sheers or a knife, or carefully peel open the corner. Even with no liquid added to the pack, the dish was so juicy I cooked up a quick pot of couscous to soak up the flavors.
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About the author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore working on her new baking cookbook, and as a recipe developer for HungryGoWhere Singapore. Check out her blog, shophousecook.com, or follow her on Twitter @yvonneruperti.