Grandma’s Braised Soy Chicken
I am incredibly lucky to be born into a family of phenomenal cooks. Everyone in our family is passionate not only about eating good food, but also about the techniques and processes that make dishes spectacular. During family gathering, we each bring our best to the table, literally. My Beijing cousins and I regularly send WeChat messages about new recipes or dishes we’ve made. We are definitely a family that thinks, dreams, and obsesses about food!
One of my favourite chicken dishes is my grandma’s soy braised chicken. At 4ft tall and weighing only 90 pounds, my 80-years-old grandma is still a formidable force in the kitchen. She made this dish recently during my trip back to Beijing for CNY, and I played spy in order to recreate the magic in my own kitchen.
Now, cooking an entire chicken might seem a daunting task for many of us (myself included). Despite all my adventures in the kitchen, I’ve only recently started cooking whole chickens, chiefly because I always felt it takes too long to cook. Well, this recipes changes all my presumptions about cooking whole chickens. It’s fast, incredibly simple, with guaranteed results. I made this dish from beginning to end in under 50 minutes!
What you’ll need (serves 2-4):
- 1 whole, medium-sized chicken (preferably free range)
- 6 stalks of green onions
- 6 slices of ginger
- 6 star anise
- a pinch of Sichuan pepper
- 1 cup dark soy sauce
- 1/2 light soy sauce
- 3 tbls salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup cooking liquor
- 4-5 cups water
Start by bringing a big pot of water to a boil – I love my 4.5Litre Le Creuset for this.
Unwrap your chicken – I prefer smaller, free-range chickens. They cook a lot faster, and pack way more flavour than than huge American factory chickens.
Once the water has come to a boil, gently lower the chicken into the pot and let that sit for 2 minutes. Be sure to turn the chicken so the scalding water touches the entire chicken. This process strips the chicken of any unwanted odours, and also helps to extract excess fat.
After 2 minutes in the boiling water bath, the skin of the chicken should start pricking up (see below).
Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. The idea here is to scald the chicken, not boil it completely.
Pour away the boiling water.
Place the aromatics into the pot – ginger, scallions, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn.
Pour in the soy sauces, sugar, salt and cooking wine. Mix them well with water. Depending on the size of your pot, you might add more sauce / water. Just remember, the chicken should be mostly immersed in the liquids.
Place the chicken back into the pot, and cook over medium low heat.
Let that simmer with the lid partly clamped on for about 40-50 minutes. The cooking time depends on the size of the chicken. A good way to test if the chicken is cooked is to use a chopstick and stick it through the thigh. If the liquid that oozes out is clear, then the chicken is done. Every 10 minutes or so, turn the chicken so both the top and bottom parts get adequate time in the boiling sauce.
After 40-50 minutes, the chicken should be cooked. You will still have plenty of liquid in the pot, so scoop out and discard most of it except for a few ladles at the bottom.
Baste the chicken with ladles of the remaining liquid. The heat will start caramelizing the sugars in the sauce and turn the sauce sticky.
Turn off the heat and plate the chicken. Don’t throw away the sticky sauce at the bottom of the pot! This is perfect for drizzling over the chicken table-side.
Your dinner guests will be very impressed, and think you slaved away for hours in the kitchen, when in actuality the cooking time was well under a hour!