It was exciting to visit Union Farm in the old days when its location, Clementi Road, used to be considered a rural part of Singapore.
There, in a barn-like structure within a chicken farm - which it was at the time - we ate paper-wrapped chicken with plain noodles, dressed with just oyster sauce and boiled greens.
It was a Cantonese food classic, and part of the repertoire found in famous Cantonese restaurants such as Lai Wah and the now defunct SinLeong.
Indeed my mother, a working woman, even attended cooking classes in the 1950s to learn how to make paper-wrapped chicken.
She used cellophane paper as a wrap but, yes, she deep-fried the parcel, just like at Union Farm.
Then, news reached me that the farm had closed last year, which I suspect, also spoke of its fading allure as the "farm" restaurant. The area has become more and more urbanised, with the city growing beyond its old parameters.
It was sad news even if I had long stopped eating there.
More health-conscious now, I had become aware of the oil-sodden nature of the delicious parcels, though I still loved the farm's delightful kampung atmosphere.
But today, Union Farm has been given new life. It reopened late last year to mixed reviews.
These nights, you can see fairy lights strung around its entrance and many cars parked within its compound.
The same kampung atmosphere prevails, reminding one that the simple old days when a night out, just dining on paper-wrapped chicken and boiled noodles, can still be magical.
If you cannot be bothered to make the trek to Clementi, you can make your own paper-wrapped chicken that has all the taste of yesteryear, with little of the sins.
This is not a deep-fried but an oven-baked parcel.
Thanks to the oven, I seldom fry these days. (The newfangled air fryer now on the market is no more than a mini oven, I suspect.)
Even my har cheong gai or shrimp paste chicken is cooked in the oven.
Using this recipe, you merely bake the paper-wrapped parcels and 15 minutes later, you get beautifully cooked parcels of food.
Cooking food in paper is an extremely forgiving method, for the juiciness of the meat is preserved nicely.
To make these parcels, do choose hormone-free chicken, if you can, to reduce unnecessary additives to your food.
Also, while breast meat is leaner, I do include some thigh meat to lend more flavour to the parcel.
Just be sure to carefully trim off the fat and remove the skin.
I also added a pile of shredded leeks and mushrooms beneath the chicken to give some sweetness and a different texture to the package.
I then topped these off with a slice of ginger to liven up the taste.
It is otherwise an easy supper to turn out, needing little attention after you marinate the meat overnight.
It takes about 20 minutes to wrap the parcels, which are then easily secured with staples, and about the same amount of time to cook them.
As for those plain noodles, just forgo them. A bowl of rice from the rice cooker requires less attention and works just as well.
Paper-wrapped chicken (Serves four to six)
4 to 6 boneless chicken thighs or breasts or both
1 tbs light soya sauce
1 tbs Chinese rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp salt or to taste Black pepper, ground
2 leeks, finely sliced diagonally
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, softened in water and sliced
6 sheets of 30 sq cm grease-proof kitchen paper
6 to 8 thin slices of ginger
Remove the fat and skin from the chicken and cut each piece into two or more pieces, if necessary.
Mix the light soya sauce, Chinese rice wine, sesame oil, salt and black pepper to make the marinade, and pour it into an airtight container.
Place the pieces of chicken into the container. Cover the container and allow the chicken to marinate for at least three hours, if not overnight, in the fridge.
Half an hour before eating, heat the oven to 180 deg C. Place some shredded leeks and mushroom on a sheet of grease-proof paper. Top this with one or two chicken pieces (one of which is thigh meat) and add a ginger slice on top.
Wrap the chicken up in the paper, securing the parcel with staples.
Do the same for the remaining pieces of chicken.
Place the chicken parcels on an oven tray and bake them in the heated oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve the parcels on individual plates and allow the diners to open them up to get their own whiff of aromatic chicken and leeks.
The chicken will release plenty of juices which make good natural sauce, but do offer some cut red chilli or bottled garlic chilli sauce on the side.
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