From the most casual burrito to Julia Child’s elegant “Salmon en Papillote,” food in wraps, of one kind or another, can be a great solution for entertaining.
Here's one of our favorite wrap-ups – a Vietnamese crêpe using lettuce to create the perfect bite!
On the casual side of the world of wraps, many food cultures have their own version. Think of the Italian piadina, Greek gyros, Vietnamese lettuce wraps, Mexican tacos, Indian roti, Japanese sushi, Chinese moo shi, dumplings and the list goes on and on. Many of these began as street food and the wrapper made it easy for someone to eat as they stood or walked along.
On the elegant side, we have a world of food wrapped in paper (in the case of Julia’s “en Papillote”) or in pastry as in Beef Wellington, Camembert wrapped in pastry, savory strudels, and pies enclosed in hot water crust, pizza dough, puff pastry, phyllo, or dozens of other coatings.
Quesadillas are another wrapped food.
Create a Wrap Bar
For easy entertaining you can create a wrap bar which is nothing more than a table filled with an assortment of good things to tuck inside another good thing. You can have a theme using any of the cultures mentioned above.
For example: a taco table could have tortillas, salsas, avocados, pickled onions and cabbage, meats, chopped lettuce, crema, and lime. You can offer non-meat options like sautéd zucchini, scrambled eggs, seasoned potatoes, or for a very authentic taste nopales – otherwise known as cactus paddles.
By letting everyone select and prepare their own meal, you can accommodate friends and family with many food preferences.
Here is another favorite of ours, Salmon en papillote with carrots, ginger, chives, and lemon zest peeking out of its parchment paper wrapper.
In Jacques Pépin’s “New Complete Techniques,” this master of cooking skills writes, “When you see ‘papillote’ on a menu in a French restaurant, you can safely assume that it describes a dish served in an envelope of parchment paper …” He goes on to explain, “When the papillote is folded correctly (it is sealed so that none of the aroma and steam can escape) it browns nicely, inflates, and the dish inside bakes in its own juices. The papillote is served directly on the serving plate and the guest opens it himself.”
If this is the only dish you learn to cook for company, you will be a relaxed chef with happy guests. You can prepare the packages hours in advance and tuck them into the refrigerator to wait for their trip to the oven.
Change-ups for different guests are easy. If salmon is on the menu, just substitute a piece of chicken for the person who doesn’t like fish. You can make a vegetarian option or one without a specific ingredient.
Your main item in the parchment paper package is topped with a selection of vegetables, herbs, and seasoning that enhance the flavor and complete the meal. With today’s prepared vegetable options in the marketplace, you don’t even have to do all the chopping and prep work. Just select your main ingredient and shop for some spiralized vegetables to add to the meal.
If folding the packages is more than you care to do, there are even parchment paper bags to make that part easier.
Most versions take less than half an hour in a hot oven and are ready to slide onto a dinner plate and present at the table.
Crêpes are another lovely wrapped meal.
Some dinner party entrées, such as Beef Wellington, take a bit of skill and cheffy work to succeed. If you have the time and the skills, this dish can be fun to make and very impressive to serve. However, there are other options that can begin with a package of pizza dough or frozen puff pastry and your imagination. So the next time it’s your turn to entertain, think about how you will wrap it up!
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Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino
Photos: ©2017 Penny & Ed Cherubino
(Adapted for BostonZest from one of our Fresh & Local newspaper columns.)