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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Parchment Wrapped Chicken

Today the subject of Parchment Wrapped Chicken came up, actually foil wrapped, but anybody who grew up in the San Francisco area knows that Gee Bao Gai is properly made with parchment and not foil. I decided I had nothing planned for dinner and it would be simple enough to whip up a batch of this classic of San Francisco Cantonese cookery. It was one of my favorites as a child and remains a treat for me, even if I have to cook it. Becaise I am lazy and did not want to wrap up three dozen, I ended up doing half in parchment and fried the rest.

It seems that every great culinary culture has some form of wrapped and steamed dish, the Cantonese cooking canon (hehe) has many types of these dishes. The truth is, although fried, the chicken is steamed in the packets. Here is the marinade, which is based upon a recipe from Johnny Kan's book Eight Immortal Flavors, published in 1963. This book means just a little bit more to me, as it is inscribed in my cousins handwriting "From Susie and Daddy, 1967" My cousin Susan was a stunning beauty who passed away at 26. Her dad followed a few years later. My aunt gave me this book. My recipe varies as noted.

Chicken in Parchment (Gee Bow Gai)
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil (I use untoasted sesame oil)
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce (I use Japanese shoyu)
1 teaspoon Chinese parsley, minced (a.k.a. Cilantro)
1 teaspoon green onion
1/2 teaspoon red seasoning sauce [Hoy Sein Jeong] (Hoisin Sauce)
1 pinch salt (I used 1/8 cup Red Boat Fish Sauce instead of salt and MSG)
1 pinch monosodium glutamate

Here is where I diverge, I love the effect of ginger and garlic in Chinese cooking, this recipe really wants some of that, so I added 1 garlic clove minced and sone ginger, peeled and about 1 inch long and 1 inch thick, chopped. I also added a pinch of turbinado sugar, as it works well with the fish sauce. All of the above ingredients were placed in a bowl and muddled vigourously with a stick of wood.

Marinade ready to go

Once this was done, I used 1 cup of skinless boneless thighs, cut into one inch pieces, for the chicken. Johnny Kan used chicken filet, which I interpret as chicken breast. Thighs are cheaper. I marinaded for one hour.

Marinaded, unlike the cook

From here, pieces of parchment were cut into 2" squares, 3" squares would have worked better, the notes in the book say that. Foo! Who reads books! Anyways, I like to place a leaf of cilantro in the middle of the parchment, then the chicken then fold.

Cilantro Leaf

Chicken placed

Then folding the corner facing you up, fold the left corner in, then the right corner in, you should have something that looks like a parchment envelope, fold the top down and tuck it in. The idea is to get a nice tight sealed package. Foil is easier and looks like crap. Just my opinion. Fry in 3 to 4 inches of oil in a wok, you will want to fry in batched unless you have a large wok. I don't. Here is what you end up with.

See the nifty leaf?

The chicken is both fried and steamed, it has a unique character and due to the sealed in environment, it is also quite aromatic and intensely flavored once you open the packet. I love the texture of this method of cooking. Here is the cooks snack opened up.

Imagine these on a stainless serving dish

Chicken in Parchment!

From here, I decided I was done wrapping and decided to leverage the marinated chicken for a second dish. I took the marinaded chicken chunks, wiped them and coated with corn starch. I wanted to make a fine slurry, which was then tossed into the wok with several stems of cilantro to scent the oil. I fried in peanut oil, both for the flavor and smoke point. Here is the fried version, with a light crispy coating.


You don't see Cantonese cooking much anymore, especially the stuff we grew up with, which was Americanized to fit the ingredients and tastes of the American market. I really enjoy this type of cooking, and the food, like all food, has that powerful effect of aroma and taste that transcends time. I love this marinade for wings as well, smoked or friend, stuffed of natural, this marinade really enhances chicken. Here is a plate of appetizers to finish off the blog.

Who needs dinner?


  1. Of course this looks wonderful, all of your creations always do. If I haven't already saved the address of your blog, I'll be doing so now, in case there is a lag in your postings on Facebook. I may (nice way of saying "I will" ask the occasional question, some being quite elementary, such as "is fish sauce still good after several years on the shelf?," and, "would it be better to refrigerate it?" You see the level of my culinary expertise.
    You may also see somewhat more sensible comments as, "thigh meat has a more complex flavor than breast filet, it makes good sense to use it in this recipe." I will hold pestering to a minimum except when I feel like pestering just to pester. Cheers.

  2. It would still be safe to eat, yes, it would be good to eat, no. Yes, in the refrigerator is best.

  3. This is a fantastic cook. I haven't had it in parchment in years - it is always in foil nowadays. Another thing for us to scour Chinatown for.