It may seem like an odd thing to do, but cooking in a bag is a pretty good idea and an often forgotten art. But, thanks to shows like Masterchef Australia, it has become increasingly popular the world over.
Originating in France where chefs (and home cooks) would typically fold parchment paper around food before oven-baking, the act of letting food steam in its own juices is a great way to avoid a loss of moisture especially when cooking large pieces of meat for a long time.
What the French call ‘en papillote’ and the Italians ‘al cartoccie’, cooking in a bag is normally reserved for larger joints of meat such as lamb shanks, short rib, and entire turkeys or chickens. Large pieces of meat clearly need longer cooking times, especially when you’re not only hoping to cook right through to the bone but also to break down the protein structure enough so that the enviable ‘fall off the bone’ texture is achieved.
One of the many things I love the most about this method of cooking is that the moisture from the fat and liquids used to steam the meat is not the only key to keeping the meat juicy, but you’re left with an amazing starting point for the perfect sauce. Don’t throw away the juices left in the bag, use them to make a sauce of your choice. If you’re struggling with what sauce to make or how to make some of the most popular sauces, you can read my blog on the five mother sauces here.
What I like to do before cooking anything in a bag is shake 1 - 2 tablespoons of flour in the bag. The flour helps the fat and juices come together which in the end, will help your sauce. Rice flour and potato flour work well too for those who are gluten intolerant or trying to avoid wheat products.
We cook our lamb for our Lamb Double Zero pasta dish in a bag and the sauce our customers love so much that coats our homemade pasta is made from what’s left over after we’ve easily shredded the meat. There really is something so magical about meat that falls off the bone without you even trying.
Most classic roast dishes can be recreated by cooking in a bag. I do have to mention though that you shouldn’t cook with any plastic you find around the house, you don’t want it melted all over your meat or to worry about how to explain to your insurance company about how your house burnt down. There are plenty of brands that sell approved heat resistant nylon bags and you can find them in most retail stores.
Even though I am a chef and spend my day creating beautiful dishes at smak, I’ll be honest and admit I don’t LOVE to clean up and especially after a long day in the kitchen I can think of nothing worse than having various pots and pans to clean after dinner. And this my friends is another reason why cooking in a bag is such a good idea. You can add your vegetables and all spices/flavourings with your meat and once done, simply throw the bag away. Less mess, less fuss.
I’d love to see some of your bag cooking creations so once you’ve tried it out, send me a pic!
Co-founder and chef at smak delicatessen and restaurant
Cover image sourced from http://www.simply-gourmet.com/