En papillote is a culinary term that I first learned while attending the The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. It is a French word that literally translates to “in paper”. As a matter in fact En Papillote is actually the name of the student newspaper.
When you cook En papillote, the food bakes and lets out steam. The food essentially steams in the oven in its own juices. Tilapia, being a very delicate fish with flat fillets is perfectly suited to this technique. This cooking method is also incredibly easy, and has the added benefits of being a low-fat method of cooking. You can use this method to cook vegetables and fruits, even chicken and pasta!
The keys to the technique are:
1) Use fresh ingredients
2) Lay out all ingredients (“mise en place”) before assembly. Use aromatic vegetables, herbs, and if you like, a little wine, stock or olive oil can add depth.
Here on our patient menu, our Tilapia En Papillotte is one of our showcase items. We use fresh tilapia, and it’s topped with green beans, cherry tomatoes, thinly shaved red onions, capers , olives, lemon, and fresh oregano, grown here in our herb garden.
The paper is then folded around the ingredients until a small package or bundle is formed. It is very important to make sure that your new “bundle of love” or envelope, is sealed tight, thus ensuring that all of the love is kept inside.
We then bake this in the oven at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes. When it comes out, the paper will look brown, but please don’t be alarmed, your food will not be burnt. This is the best part, when you carefully open the paper, you will instantly sense how the wonderful aroma of this perfectly cooked fish works in harmony with the above mentioned vegetables and aromatics.
Believe me, tasting this dish while in the hospital will take you to another place, let’s say….the south of France? That’s what we do.