A Tiny Gift that Keeps on Giving
My late-Dad taught me that good things _ and good tasting things _ come in small packages.
As a kid, whenever I was too sick to go to school, I always felt a secret twinge of giddiness. Well, not only because I got to stay home that day, but because when my Dad came home from work, there would be a surprise. OK, maybe if I knew about it ahead of time, it wasn’t really a surprise. But to a child, it still qualified as one.
You see, my Dad kept a stash of new toys hidden away at the top of a hallway closet. Whenever I got a bad cough, or a fever that would give me creepy nightmares, he’d sneak off to that closet, and pull out a toy to surprise me with. A little doll. A wooden puzzle. A coloring book. A Snoopy figurine. He hoped that whatever he chose would make my pained eyes brighten. He always succeeded, too.
On lazy weekends, my Dad would sometimes make me shirred eggs as a treat. Oh sure, he’d fry eggs in a pan or make scrambled eggs routinely. But there was something extra special about having your own egg baked in its own little dish, topped with some Parmesan cheese, paprika, and a dab of butter. It somehow seemed more precious.
That’s how I felt about his foil-wrapped chicken, too. As a kid, I would help him fold the triangular packages of chicken marinated in a sweet-salty blend of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, Ketchup, and ginger. Unlike the version at Chinese dim sum restaurants, my Dad’s wasn’t fried; it was baked in the oven instead.
Of course, it would be easier to just cook the chicken in a pan without wrapping tiny portions of it in foil packages. But it wouldn’t be nearly as fun, not when the shiny packages emerge from the oven puffed up like Jiffy-Pop popcorn.
Tear them open over a bowl of steamed rice to catch all the finger-licking good sauce.
I first wrote about this dish three years ago in the San Jose Mercury News Food section. I still smile whenever I remember one particular response from a reader. Her young son, she told me, was a picky eater. In fact, he hated chicken. But she got him to help her fold the triangles of chicken. And when they were baked, he not only ate the chicken, but loved it. They’ve made it together repeatedly ever since.
Maybe it’s the ketchup — after all, what kid can resist the stuff? But maybe it’s just the act of creating and presenting something wonderful in wee packages that just can’t miss.
Earlier this month, on what would have been my Dad’s 85th birthday, my husband and I sat at the kitchen table, carefully folding these familiar foil packages for dinner, and reminiscing about my Dad, who passed away last year.
I felt gratitude for a recipe that I always will cherish, and for all the other invaluable gifts he gave me in life.
So Dad, thank you with all my heart — and stomach, of course — for all that you gave me, and still do.
My Dad’s Foil-Wrapped Chicken
(serves 4-5 as part of a family meal with other dishes)
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken (breast or thigh) cut into bite-size pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 (1-inch) chunks of fresh ginger, pressed through a garlic press
5 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
Pinch of sugar
Dash of sesame oil
In a medium bowl, combine chicken with rest of ingredients. Stir well, cover and let marinate in refrigerator 2-3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take a roll of 12-inch-wide aluminum foil, cut off a 6-inch lenth of foil, and cut in half. This will give you two 6-inch square pieces. Continue to cut more squares like this from the roll of foil.
Place a heaping teaspoon or so of chicken mixture in the middle of a foil square. Fold in half diagonally to create a triangle. Fold the edge of each open side of the triangle over three times to seal well. Flip back each bottom corner.
Place filled foil tiangles on baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes, and serve. Everyone helps themselves to some of the triangles at the table. Open each bundle by undoing hte folded edges, or by using a fork to pierce the center.
— Recipe by my late-Dad, Bob Jung
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What a really lovely post. Your Dad sounds like he was a pretty terrific person and a pretty terrific Dad. And, the chicken looks delicious.
This does sound like a great recipe, with a moving story as well. My younger son, who eats pretty much everything, has gotten extremely fussy about chicken lately, which drives me nuts. I now know how to get him back on the bandwagon! I’ll let you know how it goes…
I make a similar foil wrapped chicken – and yeah, the kids LOVE them too! Will have to try with ketchup.
You forgot to list the key ingredient that’s obviously in there: Love.
Carolyn, it’s always beautiful when you write about your Dad. Thank you for giving us a taste of how special he was.
That was a beautiful read – and emphasizes the real joy of cooking. It’s a great way to help us remember past moments of bliss.
And foiled-wrapped chicken sounds lovely.
What a moving tribute to your dad. Thanks for posting something I will try with my ten year old son.
what a beautiful post. thank you for sharing.
You guys are so sweet! I remember when I first asked my Dad to write down the recipe. He sort of balked, saying he just throws stuff in, and had no idea how much of what went into it. I’m glad I nudged him to put it down on paper. He was pretty amazed, too, at how many readers ended up making it when it ran in the newspaper. I don’t think he ever thought his little recipe would garner so much attention. But I’m glad he lived long enough to witness it.
Thank you for sharing this story and recipe – I think i will make this for my parents when they come visit this Thanksgiving.
Darn, I am crying at work! Thank you for the lovely post. My favorite parts of your Mercuy columns were always about your parents.
Yes, very touching. This prompted me to dig up a dad tribute from my old hometown area paper. Barry’s dad was an entertainer in the Catskills hotel circuit during the 60’s and 70’s. His dad had also passed away last year and as you can see also passed along a recipe, although I’m sure he did not have to write it down for Barry. Anyway, thought you all might appreciate a moving memoriam from the other coast.
You have to love those childhood memories, no matter how many times you tell them they never get old.
I saw your column about “Heirloom Beans” on Project Foodie.com. Yum! And thanks for the recipe for Santa Maria Ponquitos and Tri-tip! It sounds delicious!
In the article, you said: “I was attending a conference at Napa’s Copia, the American Center for Food, Wine & the Arts.”
What was the conference you were attending and where is this wonderful place that hands out chocolates and other delights???
Gordon, that was an event called Taste3. It brings together artists, chefs, food purveyers, farmers, and poets to look at food not only as sustenance, but as a culture unto itself. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking event. See more here: http://www.taste3.com/program
I love recipes with a story. I will definitely make this and think of your loving father.
A lovely post, Carolyn. My dad died in April 2006 and still he pops up somewhere unexpectedly in my life. Loved this remembrance.
This is a lovely tribute to your beloved father. You take care.
I remember the post about your Dad in the Merc. I agree with the poster above, a lot of love also goes into that recipe.
what a lovely story and tribute to your late dad – thanks for sharing, and the recipe is excellent too, easy and delicious!
Delightful recipe and inspiring remniscence– can’t wait to try these with my daughter. Two questions. Do you have a preferred brand of hoisin sauce, or an idea of how to distinguish better ones? Also, I’m wondering about each foil package consisting of just 1 teaspoon of chicken– should it be a tablespoon?
I usually use Lee Kum Kee brand of hoisin, just because it’s fairly easy to find and I think the taste is quite good. As for the amount of chicken in each package, it’s probably a HEAPING teaspoon. But remember, you don’t want to overfill the foil package, or else it will be difficult to fold the edges over tightly without some of the contents squirting out. It’s kind of like making pot stickers or ravioli. You want to put in just enough filling, but not too much so that it starts gushing out.
I hope you enjoy making these with your daughter. I have a feeling she will love the dish.
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What a wonderful entry! I can’t say I will try the brussel sprouts, but I needed a new chicken recipe and will be trying this tonight. I also loved paper wrapped chicken growing up.
What a wonderful tribute to your Dad. Although I will make this dish before she can help I can’t want to make this with my daughter Lily when she is older.
Agree totally with previous comments that enjoy most your pieces springing from remembrances of your parents—I especially liked that your Dad lived to see his recipe used and appreciated by so many others. Good job.
I was looking for the best foil wrapped chicken recipe and ended up here. The story is what sold me. Then I made the recipe. DEEEEE-licious! Thank you Bob Jung. =)
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A beautiful post for your dad and a great way to make chicken!
Thank you. I’m so glad you have this recipe from your dad. Cherish it always. I’m looking forward to making it.
This is such a wonderful post about your dad! This recipe looks awesome.
Is it possible to put the chicken chunkswith all the sauce in a small baking dish & cover tightly with foil and then bake it?
Would the baking dish need pan sprayed first?
What about baking time on this option?
Lisa G.: Yes, you can bake the chicken, sans individual foil packets — in the oven in one pan. I would grease the pan beforehand, especially if it’s not nonstick. And then, cover it with foil. It will probably bake in about 20 to 25 minutes. Check it around that time, and if it needs more cooking, just pop it back in the oven for another few minutes.
A beautiful and touching recipe. Thank you for sharing.
I originally clipped this recipe when it was printed in the Mercury News and loved it! I am making it for 6 guests tonight and went online today to see if I could find the original article so I could tell them exactly whose dad’s foil wrapped chicken it is! Thanks for the story and recipe, I miss your articles and recipes, and in fact the Merc food section as it used to be.
Loved the story. I grew up in the military and shortly after being stationed on ft. Knox, my dad started bringing bags of these home sometimes from a locally owned restaurant and we would sit around the table and tear into those little foil packages like it was Christmas lol. I cannot wait to make these. I was wondering if I could use ground Ginger instead of fresh ginger because I do not have any fresh on hand and if so how much should I use?
Crystal: I love your analogy to Christmas. Yes, you can use powdered ginger. Just use less, as it’s stronger tasting. I’d use maybe 1/2 teaspoon or less, depending upon how much you like ginger. 😉
Great post! It’s great to see your dad’s legacy live on through this recipe. I can’t wait to try it, it looks amazing and is so simple! Thank you for sharing both about your amazing dad and his recipe!
Ron: Thank you so much for the kind words. I hope you do try the recipe. Everyone who does just loves it, which I know would have made my Dad beam with pride. 😉
Such a wonderful memory to have. This reminded me of my grandparents cooking yummy Cantonese food … looking back it was their way of showing me how much they loved me❤️
Hi Carol: So true! Just the aroma of a certain dish or ingredient is enough to bring on a wellspring of memories and emotions. Always cherish yours. Happy cooking!