Paper-wrapped chicken is all about the flavour and texture! Tear open these fried wrappers, and you’ll be greeted by an intense fragrance! The meat is tender, juicy and succulent, and juices beautifully caramelised by flavourful Asian seasonings. Customarily, these packets are torn open over steamed rice to let the delicious juices and oils flow over.
When I was young, one of my favourite dim sum treats was paper-wrapped chicken.
As a kid, it was fun to tear open these wrappers and sink my teeth into the tasty, juicy meat, sitting in delicious pools of its juices and oils.
There was no other dish quite like it at the time – and it was unforgettable!
Thankfully, I never grew out of my appreciation for this dish. When we often worked late hours in our early adult years, my husband and I often frequented a late-hours dim sum place for supper.
One of the reasons why it was our favourite hangout was because they made really good paper-wrapped chicken.
What is paper-wrapped chicken?
The name says it all, doesn’t it? Paper-wrapped chicken are portions of chicken wrapped and sealed in paper packets, typically made with baking paper.
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Why is paper-wrapped chicken fried?
These paper wrappers are deep-fried in hot oil, and this, I have to say, is genius! Here’s what happens:
- Because the extremely high temperature of hot oil literally steams the chicken from within, this results in very tender and juicy, succulent meat.
- At the same time, the meat releases its juices, and with nowhere to escape, you get all these little pools of deliciousness!
- Deep-frying allows caramelisation to take place inside the wrapper, creating an intense fragrance and aroma just as if you were frying the meat directly.
It’s all about the marinade!
Paper-wrapped chicken is all about the flavour and texture, so a good marinade is essential. It’s only as good as the seasonings you use.
A flavourful marinade is usually made with Asian sauces and seasonings. Traditionally, the seasonings are kept minimal. Just the essential basics like light soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese wine, sesame oil, salt and pepper.
Some paper-wrapped chicken recipes you find may include other seasonings such hoisin sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and cognac or sherry in place of Chinese wine.
In Chinese families like ours, the family cook prepares it the way it’s enjoyed the most so the marinades vary, resulting in nuanced differences in flavour and appearance.
I’m sharing a traditional Cantonese recipe, one which I have been happily sticking to for years.
Ingredients for Chinese paper-wrapped chicken
- whole chicken, about 1 – 1.2 kg, cut into 20 pieces. Bone-in and skin-on chicken will give you the best flavour. You can also use all chicken legs, thighs, or wings.
- fresh ginger. It’s juices are used in the marinade, and fresh-cut slices are wrapped with the meat to impart fragrance.
- spring onion. Like ginger, spring onions also add aroma and flavour when caramelised.
- light soy sauce
- dark soy sauce (optional). You can add a dash for a bit of colour if you like the meat darker in appearance. I usually leave it out.
- oyster sauce
- sesame oil
- Chinese wine. You can also use sherry or cognac.
- ground white pepper
- baking paper. For cutting into 20-cm (8-inch) paper squares. You’re going to need one square per piece of meat. Be sure to have an extra roll handy, just in case!
How to make paper-wrapped chicken: Step-by-step
It’s easy to make paper-wrapped chicken. Here’s how you do it:
- Cut whole chicken or your choice of chicken meat into small pieces. Try to keep the pieces small, about 1.5 – 2 inches in size as they’re easier to wrap and ensures that the meat cooks evenly.
- Add the marinade ingredients and mix to coat all the pieces thoroughly. Seal with cling wrap and refrigerate. For best results, marinade overnight to allow the flavours of the marinade to penetrate the meat. At the very least, a good 2 to 3 hours is what I recommend.
Cut 20-cm (8-inch) squares of baking paper, as many as there are chicken pieces. So, if you have 12 pieces of chicken, for example, you’ll need 12 cut squares.
On your worktop, ready the ingredients to be wrapped – chicken, ginger slices, cut spring onions, cut paper squares, and a damp cloth for wiping your fingers clean.
- Start by placing the pointed end of one square facing you, like a diamond. Place a slice of ginger and a few strips of spring onion in the centre. Place a piece of chicken over it.
- Tuck in the end closest to you, then both right and left sides. Then fold over once, and tuck in the end like an envelope (see above for step-by-step photos). Repeat until all the chicken pieces are wrapped.
- Heat up oil in a wok or Dutch oven until moderately hot, about 177° – 180°C (338° – 356°F). Learn how to gauge the approximate temperature of oil by using the chopstick test below!
- Deep-fry 3 – 4 pieces at a time, turning several times during the cooking, about 5 – 6 minutes. Caution: There’s going to be quite a bit of splattering, so have an oil splatter screen ready in case you need it.
- Scoop out the fried wrappers with a slotted spoon or metal tongs, and allow the oil to drain off. Place in a wire basket set over a plate to catch any sauces and drippings. Repeat frying the remaining pieces in batches.
Cooking Tip – Chopstick test for hot oil
Remember your moms teaching you this simple, but reliable way to gauge whether your frying oil is hot enough? It’s no secret, but if you’re wondering, here’s how.
Wet the end of a bamboo chopstick by dipping in water. Wipe off and dip into the oil.
- If small bubbles quietly surround the tip of the chopstick, the temperature is low – between 148° – 160°C (300 – 320°F).
- When you get fine bubbles surrounding the entire dipped length of the chopstick, and not just around the tip, the temperature is moderate – between 171° – 182°C (340 – 360°F).
- Once large bubbles surround the entire dipped length of the chopstick, the temperature is high – between 182° – 188°C (340 – 360°F).
Do not tear the packets open – yet! Paper-wrapped chicken are served in their wrappers.
Transfer to a serving dish and let diners tear them to release the intense fragrance and let the juices flow over rice or noodles.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, you can, but you won’t have the same intense fragrance and aroma as deep-fried paper-wrapped chicken.
If you prefer not to deep-fry, bake these in a moderately hot oven pre-heated to 190°C (375°F) for about 30 minutes.
Other meats can also be used, such as beef or spare ribs.
To tenderise beef or pork, dissolve 0.5 tsp of baking soda for every 600 grams of meat, in 1 tbsp of water and rub into meat.
Marinade for 1 to 2 hours. Then wash off the baking soda thoroughly. Proceed to marinade as per the recipe.
This dish can also be prepared with fish. The frying time will be shorter as fish cooks through quicker than meat.
Though not commonly used, you can wrap using cut sheets of aluminium foil, and fry as usual. Make sure the wrappers are sealed well by folding and crimping the edges.
You won’t need to do it envelope-style like with baking paper, so long as you are able to seal the edges well.
Compared to baking paper, it’ll be harder to tell when the chicken is cooked through, but 5 to 6 mins should be sufficient to cook, depending on the size of the chicken pieces.
Hope you all have fun with these delicious paper-wrapped chicken bites! – xx Celia
Here are more delicious fried chicken dishes you may enjoy:
Tried this recipe? I’d love to see! Remember to share your pics on Instagram and tag @foodelicacy or #foodelicacy.
Chinese Paper-wrapped Chicken
- 1 whole chicken, about 1 to 1.2 kg cut into 20 pieces (or use your choice of chicken parts)
- 20 fresh ginger slices
- 2 spring onion stalks cut into 2-cm (1-inch) lengths
- vegetable oil for deep-frying
For the marinade
- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
- 3 tbsp Chinese rice wine preferably Shao Hsing (or use sherry or cognac)
- 1 tbsp ginger juice
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 20 pieces baking paper cut into 20-cm (8-inch) squares
- Place cut chicken pieces in a large bowl. Add all the marinade ingredients and using your hands, rub into the meat until well mixed and thoroughly coated. Set aside for at least 2 to 3 hours in the chiller, stirring occasionally. Note: For best flavour, marinade overnight in the chiller.
- Ready the ingredients to be wrapped – chicken, ginger slices, spring onion strips, cut paper squares, and a damp cloth for wiping your fingers clean.
- Start by placing the pointed end of one paper square facing you, like a diamond. Place a slice of ginger and a few strips of spring onion in the centre. Place a piece of chicken over it. Tuck in the end closest to you, then both right and left sides. Then fold over once, and tuck in the end like an envelope. Repeat for all the chicken pieces.
- Heat up oil in a wok or Dutch oven until moderately hot, about 177° – 180°C (338° – 356°F). Deep-fry 3 – 4 pieces at a time, turning several times during the cooking, about 5 – 6 minutes. Caution: There's going to be quite a bit of splattering, so have an oil splatter screen ready in case you need it.
- Scoop out the fried wrappers with a slotted spoon or metal tongs, and allow the oil to drain off. Place in a wire basket set over a plate to catch any drippings. Repeat frying the remaining pieces in small batches.
- Transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately. Serve the chicken pieces in their wrappers. Remember to provide a plate for the discarded wrappers as well as a bowl of water for rinsing the fingers or paper napkins.