Parcels of Flavor
Cooking in a parcel is an idea first developed by early travelers and explorers. As they wished to travel light on their hazardous journeys, there was no room for more than one pan. Food cooked in the embers would have been charred and unpleasant so they improvised by wrapping whatever they were cooking in a protective coating of leaves before popping it in the embers to cook.
Although there is no lack of pans in most modern kitchens, cooking in a parcel, especially since the invention of foil, remains an idea worthy of oven time.
Cooking in a parcel, or en papillote as the French elegantly call it, is a clever combination of baking and closed steaming. Both vegetables and fruit can be cooked by this method and it is an excellent way of combining preservation of goodness and fresh flavor with really tender results. There is no need to cook just one type of vegetable or fruit in your parcel. Delicious combinations can be made. If you decide to cook two or more vegetables together arc cooking times are different, start cooking the hardest vegetates I and add the others to the parcel at a later stage, so that they all come ea cooking and are ready to eat at the same time. Another undoubted point in the favor of cooking in a parcel is the dramatic reduction in washing up.
The Basic Principles of Foil Cooking
When food is cooked in a parcel, it is placed in a greased packet with fat, liquid and flavorings, then cooked in the oven. Cooking time depends on the particular food being used.
The packet is usually made from a double thickness of foil. In an emergency, you can use greaseproof paper but it is rather hard to crimp and seal the edges properly, for it is not quite so malleable as foil. The maximum amount of fruit or vegetables you can cook in one parcel is 450 grams. If you tried to cook more than this, cooking would be uneven. For this amount of vegetables, you would need a double thickness piece of foil measuring at least 25 cm square. For vegetables which have a large volume in proportion to their weight (such as mushrooms) a larger piece of foil will be needed. For smaller amounts, reduce the size of the piece of foil accordingly. If you want to cook larger amounts, simply divide the vegetables between several parcels.
The vegetables or fruit with fat and flavoring are placed in the center of the foil. The sides of the foil are then brought up into a bowl shape before the liquid is added. Bringing the sides up into a bowl shape in this way prevents the liquid running away. After adding the liquid, the edges of the foil are crimped together, to seal the parcel firmly but leaving plenty of space between the vegetables and the top of the parcel, so that steam forms which cooks the vegetables.
The parcel is then placed on a baking tray (this is essential to support the base) and cooked in an oven heated to 180°C (350°F) for up to 2 hours or the time stated in the recipe used. There is no need to look at the parcel during cooking.
Fats for Foil Cooking
Fat is used for two purposes: to prevent the food sticking to the foil parcel and to add richness and additional flavor.
Greasing the parcel
Melted butter goes well with both fruit and vegetables, margarine is a cheaper alternative but is not so interesting in flavor. Allow 25 g [1 oz] butter per 450 g [1 Ib] vegetables. The easiest way to apply the butter is to melt it and brush liberally over one side of the foil using a pastry brush. Oil can be used in place of butter or margarine for vegetables but is unsuitable for fruit. Apply in the same way as butter.
Fat for flavoring vegetables
As well as coating the inside of the parcel, it is a good idea to add fat to the vegetables.
Butter is best as it mingles with the vegetable juices to make a delicious sauce. It is always best to have a generous hand where butter is concerned, so use at least 50 grams per 1 pound of vegetables. Cut it into small dice and dot the pieces among the vegetables.
Using savory butter makes the vegetables extra rich and tasty. Classic maitre d'hotel butter goes well with all vegetables but try the following ideas for variety:
- Garlic butter with mushrooms, potatoes and baby carrots.
- Thyme butter with old carrots.
- Mustard butter with turnip, swede, parsnip and kohlrabi.
- Coriander butter with mushrooms.
Oil can be used instead of butter. It is excellent for courgettes, marrow, mushrooms and onions. Olive oil gives the best flavor. Allow 1 tablespoon of of oil per 1 pound of vegetables. Herb-flavored oils, such as tarragon, thyme or rosemary oil are excellent as are walnut, sesame seed and grape seed oils.
Fat for flavoring fruit
Butter is added to fruit in the same way and in the same quantities as it is to vegetables. Spiced butters provide extra aromatic flavor. Here are a few to try:
- For cinnamon butter, mix 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon with 2 ounces softened butter. Use with apples, rhubarb, blackberries, peaches and apricots.
- For ginger butter, use the same quantity of ground ginger as above. Use with apples and rhubarb.
- For orange butter, mix 1 tablespoon of fresh orange juice and the grated zest of half an orange with 2 ounces of butter. Use with apples, rhubarb, peaches and apricots.
- Lemon butter to use with berry fruit and currants is made in the same way.
- For rum butter, mix together 2 ounces of butter, 2 tablespoons of rum and 1 ounce of soft brown sugar. Use with bananas and apples.
To speed cooking and prevent the food drying out, and to make a delicious sauce to serve with the food, a little liquid is usually added to the parcel. The liquid is always cold.
The only vegetables which do not need liquid are mushrooms, courgettes, marrow and celery. These vegetables are so naturally watery that the fat provides all the moisture necessary and any additional liquid would make the dish rather wet and limp.
For other vegetables you will need about 30 ml (2 tablespoons) liquid per 450 g (1 pound) vegetables. The liquid can be plain water but for better flavor try wine, cider or stock, all of which go well with all vegetables needing the addition of liquid.
Tomatoes, as already stated, are never cooked in a parcel alone, but when they are added to another vegetable, omit the liquid; the tomatoes will supply all the moisture needed.
Very juicy fruits, such as rhubarb, currants and blackberries do not need additional liquid. Simply sprinkle them with sugar (see the section on additions for how much sugar to use) and leave to stand for 2 hours; the sugar will draw out the juices and make them run freely. Fruit can then be cooked in a combination of its own juice and butter.
Apples, peaches, pears and apricots do need liquid. Water, fruit juice, wine or cider can be used in the same quantity as given above for vegetables.
Bananas do not need liquid nor do they need to be left to stand in sugar.
As in all branches of fruit and vegetable cookery, parcel cooked fruit and vegetables benefit from addition of flavorings.
Salt and freshly ground blac-are nearly always added to ve tables before the parcel is se?
Herbs and spices may also be added, either in the form of savory butters as already mentioned or separately. Always try to use fresh-herbs—they have the finest flavor. Use sprigs or chopped fresh here; and always remove sprigs from the parcel just before serving.
- Bay goes well with all vegetables
- Dill and basil go well with mushrooms and parcels containing tomatoes.
- Thyme goes well with carrots.
- Mint and parsley are excellent with carrots and potatoes.
- Crushed garlic, a few chopped onion rings or sliced spring onions go well with mushrooms, potatoes and parcels containing tomatoes.
Spices add flavor to the blander vegetables and bring out the nuances of delicate flavor in others. Try the following- in each case allowing 1 teaspoon of spice per 1 pound of prepared vegetables.
- Crushed coriander seeds go well with mushrooms, as does mace.
- Nutmeg, ginger, French, German or Meaux mustard go well with parsnip, swede, celeriac, kohlrabi and turnip. Dijon mustard goes well with carrots.
- Spicy Worcestershire or tamari sauce is excellent with the blander root vegetables such as swede and turnip. Add 2 teaspoons per 1 pound of vegetables and reduce the liquid content accordingly.
The most important addition to fruit is sweetener. Any type of white or brown sugar or honey can be used. With juicy fruits, blackberries and currants and other sharply flavored fruit, the sugar is sprinkled on well before cooking. Allow 75-100 grams of sugar per 1 pound fruit, or 22 ml of honey. Use only half this quantity for raspberries and loganberries.
For other fruit such as apples, peaches, apricots, dessert pears and bananas, the sweetener is added to the parcel just before cooking.
Toss the fruit in the sugar before putting in the parcel. Doing this also helps prevent discoloration of apples and bananas.
Suitable Vegetables and Their Preparation
Because it is a long, slow method, cooking in a parcel is ideally suited to hard root vegetables and to watery vegetables which cannot be boiled or steamed. It is not really suitable for leafy green or podded vegetables, as the long cooking can cause them to develop a rather 'stewed' flavor. Cooking these vegetables in a parcel is really rather a waste of time and fuel as they cook much faster on top of the stove and taste twice as nice.
Tomatoes are not suitable for parcel cooking on their own because they are too liquid, but they are delicious added to other vegetables. Large ripe tomatoes are best and should be skinned, quartered and seeded.
Cooking in a parcel is one of the best ways to make worthy but often unappetizing swedes, turnips, kohlrabi, celeriac and parsnips more appealing. Parcel-cooked, these vegetables lose their rather strong flavor which so many people find objectionable. The only root that is not successful this way is beetroot which takes much too long to cook by the parcel method.
Carrots need only be scrubbed and left whole if new. Old carrots are scrubbed and cut into slices.
Celeriac has tough skin which must be removed. Cut the celeriac into dice.
Celery should be scrubbed and sliced in the usual way. Whole celery hearts can be cooked whole if small, halved if large.
Courgettes may be cooked whole, stuffed or sliced.
Florentine fennel is prepared in the same was as celery. Very small bulbs may be cooked in halves.
Kohlrabi is prepared in the same way as celeriac.
Leeks cooked in a parcel are a well-loved traditional delicacy in Wales. Prepare the leeks as for steaming or boiling, ruthlessly removing all traces of grit.
Marrow is too large to be cooked whole but can be cut into slices 2 inches thick. Remove the center seed section and stuff if wished.
Mushrooms can be parcel cooked alone or added to other vegetables. The large cap type are best. To prepare, cut off the earthy ends of the stems, wipe the caps and slice thickly.
Onions can be stuffed and parcel cooked if large, or cooked alone if small. Simply skin in the usual way.
Potatoes keep all their flavor when parcel cooked- especially tender, baby new ones. There is no need to scrape new potatoes- unless you violently object to the skin. Scrub to remove all traces of earth and then cook them whole in their skins. Old potatoes should be peeled and quartered or thickly sliced.
Swede and turnip are both prepared as for celeriac.
Fruit and Preparation
Only fruit which has enough natural juice not to need a syrup can be parcel cooked successfully. This means that cooking pears, quinces, cherries, and gooseberries cannot be cooked in a parcel.
Cooking apples, rhubarb, plums, greengages, damsons, peaches, apricots, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, black and red currants and dessert pears if very ripe can all be cooked successfully as they have enough juice.
Apples should be peeled, cored and sliced or quartered.
Apricots should be skinned, halved and stoned.
Bananas need only be peeled. They can be cooked whole.
Blackberries should be washed and drained.
Currants should be removed from their strings and then washed and drained.
Damsons should be halved and stoned.
Greengages are prepared as for damsons.
Loganberries should be washed and drained.
Peaches are prepared as for apricots.
Pears (dessert variety) are peeled, halved, cored and quartered.
Plums are prepared as for damsons.
Time Chart for Cooking in a Parcel
Fruit or Vegetable
carrots whole or new
35 to 40 minutes
carrots slice or old
35 to 40 minutes
50 to 60 minutes
celery hearts, halved
40 to 45 minutes
1 to 2 hours as size varies
50 to 60 minutes
40 to 45 minutes
potatoes whole new
1 1/2 hours
potatoes whole old
35 to 40 minutes
35 to 40 minutes
50 to 60 minutes
50 to 60 minutes