Saturday, June 29, 2013

Playing chicken

We're into the 700th consecutive day of rain (or so it feels, it might just be the second week) but it's wet in Sydney, folks, and this little gardener ain't doing any gardening right now. The seeds I've sown of the next crops of parsley, coriander and radish are all frolicking in the rain, the lavender inexplicably has decided to start flowering, and none of that is coaxing me outdoors. 

Instead, on this soggy Saturday afternoon I'm playing chicken with one of my favourite recipes, and it's one that I have now cooked several times and each time it has worked out perfectly. The method itself sounds a bit dodgy to Western cooks, but the Chinese have been cooking chicken this way since Confucius was a schoolboy.

Here's some of the ingredients: ginger, garlic,
spring onions and salt. The bottle is of Chinese
cooking wine (Shaoxing), and in our local
Asian grocery it's $1.20 for the whole bottle,
and you use the whole bottle in the stock.
It's like a dry sherry, so I've been told.
Hope that's true (not a sherry person), but the
first time I taste a dry sherry I plan to say
"It reminds me of Shaoxing wine".

The first part of the recipe is dead easy, and normal. Make
a cooking stock (recipe below) but it's the whole bottle of wine,
5 litres of water plus lots of garlic, ginger, spring onions and salt. 
And the chicken itself needs no special prep.
Just one size 16 (1.6kg) free-range chook.
So far so good. Once you've cooked the stock for a while, add
the chicken and cook for... wait for it... 15 minutes! No, it's not
ready yet. What you then do is turn off the heat, put on the lid
tightly, and let the chicken cook very slowly and gently in the
cooling hot stock for 3 whole hours. And it works. The chicken
comes out fully cooked (ie, no 'pink' bits), super juicy and
tender. When I tell people about this recipe most of them
look a bit suspicious and you can tell from their eyes they
ain't never ever going to try this recipe. I don't care, here
it is, and this is what we're enjoying tonight!

White cooked chicken with ginger and spring onion sauce
This is based on a Kylie Kwong recipe found in the newspaper a long while ago. She didn't invent it, of course, an ancestor in 1500BC did, but I have had the temerity to change some amounts, too.

1.6kg whole free-range chicken

Cooking stock
1 x 700ml bottle Shaoxing Chinese cooking wine
5 litres water
12 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup roughly chopped ginger
1/3 cup salt flakes (eg, Maldon)
8 green spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped

Dipping sauce
2 tablespoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
1 teaspoon salt flakes
1/2 cup peanut oil

You’ll need a big stock pot to cook this, preferably one with a heavy base that can hold its heat, plus a tight-fitting lid that does the same.

1. Make sure the chicken is out of the fridge for a couple of hours before starting, so it isn’t ultra-chilled.

2. Put all the cooking stock ingredients into the stock pot and bring it to the boil (that can take up to 25 minutes). Turn down the heat, cover the pot and let it all simmer gently for 40 minutes, to make a fragrant cooking stock.

3. At around that 40-minute mark, wash and trim the chicken of excessive fat if you like. While you prepare the chicken, turn up the heat on the stock so it’s near a boiling again. Add the chicken gently to the pot, breast-side down, then turn down the heat under the pot to medium, so it’s barely simmering, not boiling. Let the chicken poach in the simmering stock for 15 minutes (and no longer).

4. Turn off the heat, fit the lid securely to the pot and let the chicken steep and cook slowly in the poaching liquid for 3 hours. Never take the lid off the pot. Don’t go near it!

5. Well before that 3 hours is up, make the dipping sauce. Combine the salt, ginger and spring onions in a wide, shallow heat-proof dish or pan, then in another small pan, heat the peanut oil until quite hot (but not smoking) then carefully and slowly pour the hot oil over the ginger/spring onions. They’ll fizz a bit in the oil but it all cools down within half an hour.

6. Once the 3 hours is up, carefully remove the chicken from the pot, using tongs, and place it on a plate for 15 minutes to cool down, before cutting it up. I use a Chinese cleaver to chop the chicken into pieces, chopping across the bone. The breast meat is very juicy and tender, so you could just cut off large pieces and slice them, to serve.

7. I serve ours with steamed Chinese broccoli, chopped into chunks, with rice on the side, plus a little bowl of the dipping sauce, which is essential. 

8. The remainder of the chicken makes a sensational cold chicken for salads or sandwiches the next day. The flavour of that ginger-infused cooking stock comes into its own more on the day after than it does on the night you cook the dish, in fact.

9. Don’t skip the dipping sauce; it’s a huge part of the flavour of this dish. It’s a classic Chinese dipping sauce, so you probably will recognise its flavour if you’re a regular at Chinese restaurants and yum cha.


Karen said...

This sounds like a nice recipe, this rain is a nuisance I was hoping it would clear for the weekend, no such luck eh!.

Anonymous said...

This sounds amazing. I'm so trying it next week.

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