Faced with a crisper drawer full of produce and some chicken breasts that needed a purpose, I dredged up my old culinary school techniques and opted for the classic *en papillote* method of roasting in a parchment pouch. Cooking in parchment packets means a dramatic presentation and an easier clean up (you can throw the parchment in the compost when you're done); fresh spring vegetables and lean cuts of meat and fish are perfect for this preparation, since the tender veggies steam fairly quickly and the lower-fat proteins benefit by retaining moisture held in by the paper shell. (It's also a great use for leftover cooked rice!)
Here's how it works: You cut large circles out of parchment paper, fold them in half, and fill them with ingredients of your choice. To seal in the flavors and juices, you simply crimp the edges of the paper closed and pop the packets on a tray and into the oven, where the evaporating moisture from the food puffs up the parchment, simultaneously steaming the contents while keeping them exceptionally moist. As a bonus, you serve the packets straight from the oven, allowing your dinner guests (or roommates, in my case) the hands-on fun of opening their individually packaged dinners themselves. —Judy Haubert
cooked wild rice or brown basmati rice
thick asparagus, trimmed and halved crosswise
medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and sliced ¼-inch thick
boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each)
Freshly ground black pepper
orange, zested and juiced
small shallot, minced
medium radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
watercress, leaves and tender stems
In This Recipe
Heat the oven to 425° F. Cut out four 15-inch parchment circles and fold each in half. Open the circles and divide the rice equally between them, mounding it next to the crease on one half. Top with ¼ each of the asparagus and fennel. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Toss chicken with pesto to coat and season generously with salt and pepper. Place on top of the rice and vegetables and sprinkle with the orange zest, about 1 teaspoon per parchment packet.
Whisk 3 tablespoons orange juice with the olive oil, Dijon, shallot, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle 2 tablespoons over each packet of chicken, vegetables, and rice.
Fold the top half of each parchment circle over the filling to form a semicircle. Working from one end, begin tightly folding and crimping the edges together to form a seal.
Place the parchment packets on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned and puffed, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the chicken breast (through the parchment) reads 160°F, 20 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, just before the parchment packets are removed from the oven, toss the radishes and watercress with the remaining vinaigrette and season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer each parchment packet to a plate and make an “X”-shaped slit in the top with a paring knife or kitchen shears, being careful of escaping steam. Fold back the parchment and top each chicken breast with the radishes and watercress. Serve immediately.