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I've had a great time lately creating new recipes in parchment. The technique has been around forever and it should be one that is part of your weekly routine. Meals are easy to assemble quickly and there is almost no clean up after dinner.
There are a lot of variations when cooking in parchment or foil pouches, and you can use leftovers or that small amount of a vegetable that is left in the crisper drawer. Beyond tasting great, I like that I have used the last carrot, a couple of green onions or the lonely green pepper in the fridge. Here's a guide to mixing and matching so that you can start building your own meals. Be creative.
Try one 15-ounce can of no salt added beans, drained and rinsed. This can be anything from pinto beans to garbanzos.
Rice is great and brown rice is best. Use 1/2 Cup brown rice, cooked before assembling.
If you are going to use potatoes or sweet potatoes, it is best to cut them into a fine dice. These should be no larger than 1/4 inch cubes. It takes a bit more time to cut the smaller pieces, but after 20 to 25 minutes in the oven they will be cooked perfectly.
I generally use 4-6 ounces vegetables per serving.
Bell peppers should be julienned or diced. As with the potatoes, you want your carrots or parsnips to be cut smaller - no larger than a 1/4 inch dice or cut into matchstick.
Onions, garlic and shallots should be minced fine. If they are too large, they will not cook well and taste too sharp and raw, spoiling the flavor of your dish. Green onions should be thinly sliced crosswise.
Use a standard serving of 4 ounces protein per serving. Fish is best in in 4-ounce filets.
Pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin or chicken (both breasts and thighs are great) are best in thin strips or small cubes.
Shrimp should be peeled and deveined and not smaller than 21/25.
The liquid can be one of the trickiest ingredients. It is going to add moisture through steam to help cook your meal, but it can also add a lot of flavor. You need less than you might think (both vegetables and meats will give up some liquid during cooking), and it is good to balance liquid and fat.
I aim for a total of about 3 tablespoons of liquid per pouch, including all of the various liquids and liquid condiments (like mustard or tomato paste).
Wine, beer, water or stock will all make good bases for your parchment recipes. Use about 2 tablespoons maximum.
There are a lot of sauce choices that you can use for flavor, such as soy or tamari sauce, teriyaki sauce, tomato paste, hoisin, Pickapeppa or chutneys. You don't need much - generally around 1 to 2 teaspoons per pouch.
Fat is an important part of the meal for a lot of reasons. It adds both flavor and great texture. I aim for about 2 teaspoons per pouch, but I will sometimes use 3. Much more and the meal will be greasy. Combine 1 teaspoon olive oil with a teaspoon of unsalted butter, for example. Flavored oils like basil or truffle oil are great choices.
Use a light hand with your seasonings.
It only takes 1/4 to 1/2 of teaspoon salt for two servings, bearing in mind that other ingredients in your pouch will contain salt - especially soy or tamari sauce. Add black pepper to taste.
The other spices and herbs also don't take much to add a lot of flavor - no more than about a half teaspoon of any one spice divided between the two pouches will be enough. The more pungent the spice, the less you will need. For example, use 1/2 teaspoon of something milder, like dried oregano or basil, but use less with stronger flavors like ground cumin or curry powder. Fresh herbs take more. You will need at least a tablespoon of fresh herb per pouch for added flavor.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but that's the great part. You can mix and match so easily. Have a great flavor combination that you have tried? Share it in the comments or on our Facebook page.
Here are our foil or parchment recipes:
Southwestern Beef in Parchment
Salmon in Parchment with Mangoes
Sole in Parchment with Vegetables and Mushroom Sauce
Shrimp Scampi in Parchment
Southwest Chicken in Parchment
Asian Pork in Parchment
Halibut in Foil with White Beans and Olives | Low Sodium Version
Mediterranean Whitefish in Foil
Whitefish in Foil with Mustard Sauce
Whitefish in Foil with Vegetables and Tomato Sauce
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.