The interest lately roused by M. Soyer's method of cooking various foods in paper bags has been so keen that some hints and recipes for the same may be helpful. There is no doubt that the system has great possibilities, combining, as it does, cleanliness with economy of time, labour, and the nutritive elements of the food.
Cleanliness, because the cooking causes no grease, dirt, nor even unpleasant fumes of cooking which render the atmosphere of the home objectionable.
Saving of time and labour, because there are no dirty or greasy pans to clean, no. bespattered oven to scour, or basting to be done.
No waste of the nutritious elements of the food, because any juices extracted from the meat, fish, vegetables, etc., are not wasted and thrown away in the water, as so often is the case. Nor yet are these juices evaporated and dried up by the heat of the oven. All juices extracted into the tightly closed envelope of paper are retained by it, and poured out on to the hot dish when serving the food.
Every housewife has at some period of her career experienced acute vexation at the failure in appearance and flavour of some dish when served. Joints, game or poultry will shrink and dry in a marvellous manner, and delicate flavours be marred by contact with imperfectly cleaned pans and grease-coated ovens.
The average plain cook does not easily grasp the reasons for basting meat, and for the scrupulous cleanliness necessary in every detail. She is apt to regard such trivialities, as they appear to her, as fads of her mistress, and does her best to forget such petty annoyances.
Paper bag cookery is a boon in such cases, if the maid can be persuaded to forsake the traditions of centuries, and give the system a fair and honest trial. To accomplish this revolution will, however, need tact and infinite patience.
For instance, complaints have arisen that bags come unstuck with the moist heat, that the times quoted as necessary for perfect cooking prove insufficient, and that in some cases the flavour of certain foodstuffs is too strong. As a cook described it, "the fish is too fishy, and the meat too meaty "; and she "couldn't imagine what a high bit of game would be like shut up in a paper bag." And there is much sense in that criticism. Perhaps our palates have become depraved owing to generation after generation having so cooked their foods as to extract and modify the characteristic flavour of each; but, without doubt, the smoky taste of a dried haddock, and the slight bitterness of some vegetables, appear not only to be retained, but even accentuated by the paper bag method.
As regards the edges of the bags coming apart, they may have been faulty bags, or the oven not sufficiently hot when they were put in, or over-much liquid was used for the size of the bag.
To judge the times for cooking different articles of food needs experience and the exercise of common - sense. The same difficulty will occur, no matter what mode of cooking is chosen, or how carefully worked-out may be the cookery book.
Although cooking, literally, in paper bags is novel, the principle of sealing foods in greased papers to cook them is not.
Placing a chop and slices of tomato in the bag
Mullet, cutlets, etc., were so treated many years back, and met with much approval. Instead, however, of ready-made bags of various sizes, chefs and their disciples used sheets of grease-proof parchment paper or greased foolscap, the former being considered preferable.
At first, pins were directed to be used to fasten the edges, but later proper paper clips, such as are now recommended, came into use in order to avoid perforating the paper. It is open, therefore, for those unable to procure the prescribed and handy bags to make their own envelopes wherein to cook various delicacies.
Certain hard and fast rules must, however, be observed when cooking in paper if success is to be ensured.
1. Select a bag, or make a case, of a size that will allow the food to be easily inserted and removed.
2. If the paper is not grease-proof, well brush it over inside with warmed butter. For meat, fish, and game, it is better to always butter the interior of the bags, no matter of what paper they are made.
3. If one of the patent bags is used, the open edges at the top must be folded and carefully secured with three or four paper clips after putting in the food; or if one or two sheets of paper are to be used, there will be either four or three edges to fold and secure, according to whether two sheets are required to make a large case, or one sheet folded over for a small one. Directions for folding and fastening will be found further on.
4. The oven must be very hot when the bag of food is put into it. A gas oven should be lighted about eight to ten minutes beforehand.
5. The bags must not be laid on a solid oven shelf, but on a shelf made of separate bars, like a gridiron. These shelves are usually described as grid-iron shelves. A solid iron shelf prevents the free circulation of hot air round the bag. For this reason bags must not be laid upon or touching one another. If the oven does not contain a gridiron shelf, lay the bag on a meat trivet on the solid iron shelf.
6. After the bags have been in the oven for two or three minutes the heat should be decreased.
7. To find out if the food is cooked sufficiently the bags should not be pierced or opened, but the contents pressed with the finger. It is wiser to allow a little more, not less, than the time directed, until experience has been gained by practice.
8. When removing bags from the oven, it is best to gently slip them on to a flat tin or plate, not to try and carry them in the hand, as if a bag which is rendered brittle by cooking be roughly touched, it might burst, and thus cause perhaps a serious scald.
Removing the cooked chop and tomato from the bag. On the left is shown the bag containing the chop ready for the oven. Note the manner in which this is closed by paper-fasteners
How to Close the Edges of a Bag
Lay any open edges of the paper evenly together. Fold them over once, and crease down heavily with the finger or some blunt edge. This creasing down is a matter of great importance if the bag is to be made airtight. Fold the edge over a second time, and again crease down firmly; and, if liked, even a third fold may be given. Lastly, push the folded edges up between an ordinary brass or wire paper clip which will effectively keep them in place. At least three clips should be used to each folded side. The clips can be used over and over again. Be sure to lay the bags on the shelf of the oven with the folded edges turned uppermost.