Chicken in paper
Updated: 2011-07-17 16:40
By Pauline D. Loh (China Daily)
Paper-wrapped chicken is a summer party dish. Pauline D. Loh shows you how to re-create a taste of country goodness in the city kitchen.
This is one of those dishes that jolts my memories. I first tasted this in a restaurant on stilts in a rural suburb of Singapore. It was an old-fashioned farmhouse with peacocks crying in the backyard and rows of chicken and dove cotes lining the garden paths. In the large grass-fringed pond, hundreds of golden, red and white koi basked in the setting sun, and the rich light set them aglow like jewels.
About a year ago, I re-visited the restaurant and it is still as it was, only now, the city has grown about the farm and it looked a little out of place next to its neighbors - an uber-modern polytechnic campus and another of Singapore's ubiquitous housing estates. A super-highway has cropped off much of the farm's rolling backyards and the peacocks and koi are gone.
The paper-wrapped chicken, the restaurant's only signature dish, is still as tasty as ever.
I'm not really sure how or where this dish originated. I have eaten various versions in Singapore, Malaysia, and even Thailand and Hong Kong. I suspect that is an invention of the overseas Chinese migrants in Southeast Asia. The heavy fragrance of yellow wine, ginger and sugar are typical of the South China coastal regions, and the deep-frying in parchment paper suggests the hint of Western influence in these colonial hinterlands.
I have also seen this served in certain Cantonese restaurants in Australia and the United States, and it seems to be a popular banquet dish in London's Chinese restaurants as well. So, the dish has certainly traveled far and wide.
Whatever its antecedents, paper-wrapped chicken is fun food, tasty food, novelty food. It is great for a party because it can also be finger food. Traditionally, it is deep-fried, but I have found that it can be roasted in the oven quite easily and that makes it a really convenient dish for entertaining.
Stock up on plenty of beer, get a nice fat chicken, and you're ready to party. Just have a huge basket for the discarded paper and bones, lots of paper napkins and wait for the compliments and requests for the recipe.
Here's a step-by-step guide to great party food.
Paper-Wrapped chicken Ingredients (serves 6-8):
1 chicken (1.5 to 2 kg)
200 g ginger
2 tbsp Chinese wine
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp pure maple syrup (or honey)
1 tsp salt
1 bunch coriander leaves
2 red chili, sliced diagonally
20 pieces of 20 cm squares of baking or parchment paper
1. Cutting the chicken:
Do not be intimidated by a whole chicken. It's really quite easy to chop it up into manageable pieces and it's much cheaper than buying ready-cut chicken parts. First trim off all visible fat, especially around the neck and the two flaps of fat just inside the abdominal cavity.
Pull the wings away from the body and cut close to the body. Separate the little drumstick and the middle section with tip attached.
Pull the drumstick away from the body and cut the skin. You will see where the bone is attached to the hip. Cut along the joint. Nature helps you here, and you will see a line of fat that shows where the thigh and the leg are joined. Chop along this line. If you like, you can leave the drumstick whole or cut it again into two pieces. The thigh easily separates into two.
Remove the entire breast, following the line of ribs. The breast will easily divide into six pieces.
That will leave you with the backbone. You can choose to save this for stock, or if you are Chinese, chop it into four pieces and leave it for those who really appreciate that meat with bone attached is the tastiest. But remember to remove the tail. Unless you know how to remove the glands, the bishop's nose can be a tad pungent and it may contaminate the rest of the chicken pieces.
If you follow these instructions, you should easily get 20 pieces of chicken. Wash and drain well, and chill in the fridge while you prepare the marinade.
2. Making the marinade:
Skin and grate a large piece of ginger, add two large tablespoons of a good quality Chinese yellow wine. I use meiguilu, a very aromatic rose-scented white liquor. You can substitute with cooking sherry.
Pour the ginger and wine marinade onto the chicken pieces and add sesame oil, good dark soy sauce and maple syrup. Dust with salt.
Next, work the seasoning into the chicken pieces by massaging them gently. Leave the chicken pieces to marinate overnight for the best flavor. If you're impatient, you can let them steep for an hour or more, but the ginger will not have as much time to work its magic.
4. Wrapping it up:
You can now wrap up the chicken pieces, but I like to have that extra touch to pretty thing up. All it needs is a little coriander and sliced chili.
Pinch off individual coriander leaves and refresh under cold water. Slice the chili and shake off any seeds.
Place a coriander leaf and a couple of slices of chili on the parchment or baking paper. Place a piece of chicken skin-side down on top of the coriander leaf and chili. Wrap the chicken tightly up, tucking in the flap like an envelope.
Repeat until you have all the chicken pieces wrapped up. If even this defeats you, just fold the paper around the chicken and staple the opening shut.
5. Cooking the chicken:
Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat, and place the packets of chicken into the pan. Fry for about eight minutes each side or until you see them browning. Turn up the heat and remove chicken pieces and drain. You can fry the chicken ahead of time and keep them warm in a heated oven.
If you are squeamish about too much oil, roast the chicken instead. Place on a baking tray in a single layer and roast in a 220 C oven for 15 to 20 minutes in all. These are chicken pieces so they'll cook a lot faster than a whole chicken.
The chicken can be prepared ahead so you can host your guests without getting flustered in the kitchen. Have a bowl of simple fried noodles or freshly cut baguettes on standby. Tell your guests to unwrap the chicken over their plates to catch the juices. The noodles and bread can serve to mop it all up. I often serve paper-wrapped chicken with plain bread and a huge green salad with a very light olive oil and lemon juice dressing. Anything too exotic won't work with the strong flavors of the chicken.