Paper Packets

By Angela Denstad Stigeler

Even in this digital age, there’s still a lot of paper this time of year. Whether it’s grade school packets of what students have been learning, college-level final papers, fiscal year-end paperwork, or just a winter’s worth of clutter, now’s the season to take on these packets before we set aside the school supplies in favor of more summery pursuits.

But consider what paper can do for your dinner. Cooking in parchment means tender, steamed meats and vegetables in a neat package that offers the release of amazing aromas at the dinner table, and helps make clean-up a breeze, too. This light meal uses some classic Asian aromatics, like lemongrass, to infuse shrimp and noodles into a wonderful springtime meal. Perfect for outdoor dining, the parchment packs keep the steam and the flavor in while you carry the plates out.

This version is delicious as written, but if you can’t get down the international food isle first, there are several alternative ingredients listed. You can even use this paper packet technique to take the dish into a completely different direction–like Italian lemon-pepper shrimp with angel hair. Don’t be afraid to use your noodles and your paper packets are sure to make the grade.

Lemongrass Coconut Shrimp and Noodles in Parchment

4 ounces rice vermicelli noodles, or 4 ounces angel hair pasta, cooked according to package directions

4 cups baby spinach

2 medium carrots, peeled and grated on large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup)

½ cup Thai-style canned coconut milk

1 ½ teaspoons Thai red curry paste, or other spices

1 teaspoon fish sauce or soy sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

freshly grated zest of 1 lime and 1 teaspoon lime juice, plus wedges for serving

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 stalks lemongrass

fresh cilantro, mint and scallion for serving

Position 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Cut four 16-inch sheets of parchment and fold each one in half. Place two pieces on each baking sheet, opening them out like a book. Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover completely with warm water. Let them sit for 5 minutes to soften, then drain well. Add the noodles back to the bowl along with the spinach and grated carrot.

Whisk the coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, garlic, lime zest and juice, and brown sugar together in a medium bowl. Add ¼ cup of the coconut marinade to the noodles, season with salt and toss to coat. Add the shrimp to the remaining marinade and toss to coat.

Divide the noodles and vegetables between the 4 sheets of parchment, centering them on one side of the fold. Drizzle each with 2 tablespoons of water, top with the shrimp and the remaining marinade. Cut each lemongrass stalk into 4 pieces and smash them with a mallet or a small heavy skillet. Place 2 in each pack.

Fold the top half of the parchment over the shrimp and, starting with one side, crimp and overlap small folds along the open edge to seal tightly. Repeat with the remaining packets. Bake for 12-15 minutes; the parchment should puff.

Transfer each to a serving plate. At table, carefully cut open each packet and discard the lemongrass. Pass the lime wedges, cilantro, mint and scallions for garnish.