If you've ever attended a Chinese banquet, you may have been intrigued when a mysterious looking transparent packet was served. Upon opening it, you would have discovered a highly seasoned combination of deep-fried chicken and Chinese vegetables. Paper-wrapped chicken is a popular Cantonese dish that is now enjoyed throughout China. Of course the food isn't actually wrapped in plain white bond paper - cellophane paper is normally used, although rice paper may be substituted. Aluminum foil works as well, truly making it a mystery dish, since your guests can't see through the packet. Foil-wrapped chicken is sometimes called "silver-wrapped" or "gift-wrapped" instead of paper-wrapped chicken, but it is basically the same recipe. Another variation is to substitute beef or spareribs for the chicken.
The secret of this popular dish lies in the marinade. Once the wrapped chicken pieces are deep-fried, the marinade caramelizes onto the chicken and other ingredients, joining them together. Hoisin sauce and bean sauce are often added to the marinade; oyster sauce is also used. Two other popular marinade ingredients are sesame oil and five-spice powder. When wrapping the chicken, it is customary to add a few other ingredients as a type of garnish. Cilantro, Chinese dried mushrooms, Chinese sausages (you can substitute smoked ham), and/or green onions are all used.
When it comes time to cook, the garnish and chicken pieces are wrapped envelope style in square packets and deep-fried. The envelopes should be deep-fried in batches of five to six at a time so as not to overcrowd the wok. Cooking time is normally about three to four minutes - long enough for the chicken to cook through but not for the paper to blacken. (This is for five to six inch squares - the cooking time will be longer if you are working with a recipe that calls for larger packets.) Stir the pieces lightly with chopsticks a few times while deep-frying. Drain the cooked chicken packets on paper towels.
While paper wrapped chicken is normally deep-fried, it can also be baked. Bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) oven for 15 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.
To serve, pile the packages on a serving dish and surround with greens for garnish if desired. One final note: be sure to keep lots of napkins handy! Eating paper-wrapped chicken can be a rather messy business - you can use chopsticks to open the bundles, but most people just use their fingers.
Here is my recipe for Paper-wrapped chicken, along with a printer friendly version. I hope you enjoy it! If you do try it, please feel free to email me with your feedback and suggestions.
24 Chicken Packages
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 slice ginger, shredded
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon dry sherry
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
3 - 4 Chinese dried mushrooms, softened and thinly sliced (24 slices, 1 for each packet)
3 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal (2 - 3 slices for each packet)
24 sprigs cilantro (coriander leaves)
24 6-inch squares of cellophane paper, cooking parchment paper, or aluminum foil
peanut oil for deep-frying
Cut the chicken into thin slices roughly 2 1/2 inches long (to make 48 slices). Pound lightly on the back of the chicken to tenderize.
Mix together the marinade ingredients and marinate the chicken for one hour. After the chicken has been marinating for 45 minutes, add the mushrooms and green onions. This allows them to absorb the marinade.
To wrap the chicken: paper-wrapped chicken is normally wrapped envelope style. Take a square of paper and lay it out in front of you. Add 2 of the chicken slices, 1 slice of mushroom, 2 slices of green onion and a coriander sprig (if desired) in the middle, being sure to keep the filling in the center and not near the edges. Bring the bottom flap up over the chicken. Fold the right side over toward the middle, then the left side, so that one is overlapping the other. Fold the top flap down, tucking it inside the opening to seal the package. It is very important to make sure the packets are well sealed so that no oil seeps in.
Heat wok and add oil for deep-frying. When the oil is ready, slide the packages in, about 6 at a time so as not to overcrowd the wok. Deep-fry the packets, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through. Drain on paper towels. Continue deep-frying the rest of the packets.
Serve the chicken packets on a large platter, garnished with greens if desired. Guests can open the packets with either chopsticks or their fingers.
(This recipe can be prepared ahead up to the deep-frying stage and frozen.)