Make chicken-and-veg parcels for maximum flavour, minimum mess

This recipe is a breeze to assemble for weekday dinners. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST
This recipe is a breeze to assemble for weekday dinners. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

(THE WASHINGTON POST) - If the cleanup end of a weeknight meal is your least favourite part, this recipe's for you. It uses a time-honoured technique employed by professional chefs and camping enthusiasts with equal aplomb: packet cooking, aka en papillote, al cartoccio, hobo packets and foil-packet dinners.

Foods enclosed in a parchment paper or foil pouch essentially steam as they bake in the oven or roast on the grill, holding in juices, flavours and aromas. To create that steam, added liquids are sparingly poured, and when the pouch is foil, some type of fat is included to keep the contents from sticking. The packets are typically done per individual serving, making them custom-order for each diner at your table without extra steps or fuss.

Start with proteins that respond nicely to poaching, such as chicken or fish or tofu, and you can add on from there. For this rendition, chicken broth, lemon slices and a touch of honey do the trick; a dry white wine could stand in for the broth if you have that.

The small pile of vegetables and herbs underneath picks up flavour from the chicken on top as well. The chicken needs to be thin; pound or cut the boneless, skinless chicken breast halves in your Dinner in Minutes Pantry or buy cutlets that are ready to go.

You do not have to fold the packets any particular way, as long as you (a) leave some head space for steam, and (b) make sure they are sealed tightly. Pop them on a baking sheet, where it does not matter how closely they sit. When you open them, keep your face just far enough away to avoid the rush of heat but close enough to inhale the goodness.

Once the packets are emptied, you can toss them - and have only the dishes to wash.

Chicken and Veg Parcels

2 servings

Serve with warm bread, or over brown rice

INGREDIENTS

1 medium red bell pepper

1 celery rib

1 medium shallot

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 to 6 stems fresh herbs, such as sage, thyme and/or parsley

1 lemon

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (170g each)

3 Tbs no-salt-added chicken broth

Honey

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cut two 30 by 40cm sheets of parchment paper, fold each one in half crosswise. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, side by side, and then open each one. As you prep the next ingredients, you'll be creating two equal piles, centered on one-half of each parchment paper.

2. Cut the red bell pepper in half. Discard the seeds and ribs, then cut into long, thin strips. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the stringy bits from the celery. Cut the ribs lengthwise into 1cm-wide strips, then cut them in half so they are the same length as the red bell pepper strips. Mince the shallot. Season each pile lightly with salt and pepper.

3. Pluck the leaves from the fresh herbs (to taste). Cut the lemon into very thin slices, discarding any seeds.

4. Place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the chicken breast halves and pound each one to a thickness of no more than 1cm. Season all over with salt and pepper. Place one atop each pile of vegetables. Arrange the herb leaves and lemon slices on each portion.

5. Drizzle the broth and a little honey (a few teaspoons each) over the piles, then fold over the paper and, starting at one corner, crimp and seal tight each packet. Roast (middle rack) for 20 to 22 minutes; the paper packets should puff up a bit.

6. Place them on individual plates. Carefully tear open, avoiding the steam. Eat right out of the packet or empty the packets onto the plates.

Nutrition: Per serving: 290 calories, 40 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 125 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 17 g sugar