simple chicken

Posted by MeiWei on May 21, 2015
Categories: Recipe

This is a staple of all Chinese family cooking –  Steamed Chicken.  Back in the days when there was not any convenient this dish from a store ready made; you would make it yourself at home.      

Since not everyone lives next to a good Chinatown where they can pick this up frshly made, I thought I would post this traditional recipe for everyone to enjoy.  This tasty and healthy meal consists of Steamed Chicken, sauteed broccoli, stewed Shitake Mushrooms and brown rice.      

Each of the side dishes will be explained in a later post, in case you want to replicate a fuller meal.  But this main dish can be a meal of its own, or be happily accompanied by a multitude of side dishes.

For the Steamed Chicken, these are the ingredients you’ll need:     

One whole chicken…………………..roughly 1 pound     

Ginger……………………………………one head, roughly half the size of your palm     

Scallions………………………………….one bunch     

salt………………………………………..1 teaspoon, roughly measured but add to taste     

vegetable oil……………………………1/2 cup roughly     

Picking a chicken:     

The chicken we cooked with tonight was a non-hormone fed chicken.  I also chose the smallest one I can find.  Not only is it because we have a small family that I chose a small chicken, but because the size indicates in some ways that the chicken isn’t too old.  The age of the chicken will affect the texture of the meat.  The younger the more tender.  You get the idea.     

Preparing a chicken:     

Now a days, people can get all kinds of chicken in the US.  Live ones, dead ones, cut up ones, the sky is the limit.  For an optimal taste, get a live one and have your butcher process it on the spot for you.  But if you don’t have a live chicken vendor, then any store bought one is just as good.  The first thing to do with a dead chicken is to make sure all the fine feather has been cleaned.  Take a tweezers and remove any that you see.  They will usually be at the tip of the wings.  Clean out the giblets from inside the chicken.  I throw them out since we don’t eat internal organs….too much calories and cholesterol, but I suppose you can save them and create your own chicken stock.  But that’s another post.  Cut out any lumps of fat that you find around the neck area.  Cut out the butt of the chicken with a pair of scissors.  It’s too fatty for me, and I have a mental block about eating the business end of my food, even though what you just cut out is technically the tail of the bird and not the you know where.  Also, make sure the chicken is thoroughly thawed before cooking.  Iced up meat prevent even cooking.      

Steaming a chicken:     

 Take a double pot and put the chicken into the perforated portion of the pot.  Add water to the bottom pot to a level just shy of touching the bottom of the perforated pot.  For me, that’s about 2″ of water.  Since it’s different in every pot, you’ll have to use your best judgment.  Better yet, test it out before you unwittingly submerge your chicken into boiling water.  We don’t want boiled chicken here….yuck.     

Do not put the raw chicken in until the water had begun to boiled.      

And I know it’s elementary, but once you put in the raw chicken, remember to cover the pot.  Otherwise, it won’t be steaming, it’ll just be water boiling out of your pot and your chicken getting a slight sauna.      

There are a few ways to know when your chicken is done.  I know from experience that it takes about 35 mins to complete a 1+pound chicken.  To be safe though, you should use a skewer to test the thickest part of the chicken to confirm before removing the upper pot.      

The slowest part of the chicken to be cooked is around the thighs where it tuck against the body.  If the skewer can’t poke through, then let it cook for another 3 mins.  But make sure you’re not poking at the thigh bone and think that it’s not going through.  Although a little over cooking never hurts anyone, but tough chicken breasts are just not that rewarding.  What we are aiming for is a chicken that’s almost well done.  The bones in the thigh should be pink but not runny when you cut it at the end of this dish.   If it’s too well done, the bones marrow will be brown.      

This is probably the most hocus-pocus part of the dish.  There are all kinds of devices you can use to test the temperature of the chicken, (and here’s a temperature chart if you feel compelled), but so much of cooking is about honing your intuition and using simple tools at hand, so I would forgo the thermometer for this dish.      

(And to put your mind at ease, there’s a microwave fix at the end, so let it go baby, let it go.  There will not be salmonella tonight.)     

Let’s assumed that all went well after 35 mins.  Your skewer is poking through the thighs of the chicken, so it is time to take out the chicken along with the perforated pot and let it cool.  When a chicken is steamed, the skin and meat is extremely tender when it’s hot.  So try not to play with your food too much at this point and let it rest in the perforated pot on the counter top with a dish underneath to collect any condensation and juices.      

The sauce:     

The plain chicken will need a garnish, as well as salt.  This brings us to the fun part of this dish.      

Wash your scallions and pinch 1/2 inch off the top of each green blades.  Or you can take a knive and chop it off so you get an even top.  But for me, that waste a lot of food, and I love scallions, so I usually just take the time and pinch.      


 After you’ve washed the scallions thoroughly, peel the first layer off.  Here you see a typical Y growth.  The main shoot is on the right, and the older blade of the scallion is on the left.  Peel that blade back to the bottom.  The reason for this is that the scallions’ outer layer is usually too tough.  But if you happen to have one bunch that looks tender over all, then you can skip this.      

Take a pair of scissors, and cut the scallions sections.  A fine cut would be about 1/8″ thick cross section of the scallions.  For the sauce, you can do 1/4″ cut.  It doesn’t affect the taste and it won’t look bad.  You can also use a knife to chop to that size.  My knives aren’t sharp enough and it usually mash my scallions down 


Now that you have a bowl full of scallion sections.  It’s time to get on with the ginger.      

First scrap off the ginger skin by using a butter knife.  We are basically scrapping off the skin.  No need to use a peeler on this one.  Peeler takes off too much.  The finger parts of the ginger is tough to scrap off, if it’s too tough to get underneath, snap it off and process.  After this is done, thinly slice the ginger first, then julienne, then finely chop down to small squares.  Mix well with the scallion in a bowl.    

skinning ginger


 Finally heat up the 1/2 cup of oil on the stove.  We want it to be very hot to use to sear the ginger and scallions.  I usually heat it up until I don’t see the oil dances anymore and before it starts to visibly smoke.  Although my smoke alarm by my kitchen door usually goes off at this point – this also happens almost every time I cook.  What can I say,  Chinese food is a high heat affair.  As embarrassing as it sounds, that’s usually a good indicator.  

If you don’t have an overly sensitive alarm to tell you when your oil is ready, there is a more civilized way to do this.  Use that wooden/bamboo skewer you used to test to chicken before and submerge the tip into the hot oil.  If no bubbles are rising from it, it’s not ready.  If it bubbles, you’re good to go. 
Now, this is the part that’s probably the scariest….even more scary than when you will chop up your now cooled chicken later on. 
Pour the hot oil into the bowl.  The ginger and the scallions will hiss and bubble when you do this, so be gentle, do a little at a time and be sure that the oil isn’t being dumped just in one spot.  The amount of oil you put in should just barely cover the ginger and scallions mix.  If there are extra, leave it on the stove top to cool first before you dump it or pour it back into your oil can.  It’s very hot, so it’ll burn and hisses wherever you dump it at this point.  
Spoon around the ginger scallions oil mix and let it cool a bit.  Once that’s cooled, you can start adding salt into the mix.  The sauce can be a little salty since there’s no salt on the chicken, so add the teaspoon of salt after the oil has cooled a bit.  But if you are watching your sodium, then add it to taste.  Once again, wait until the sauce is cooled, even though most of the heat in the oil is lost in the searing.  You don’t want to burn your tongue while tasting for saltiness.  I’ve learned my lessons the hard way….too many lessons really.
ok.  now back to the chicken. 
So chopping up a whole chicken the Chinese way usually will remind you of your high school biology class.  Make sure the chicken is sufficiently cooled for you to handle.  Not only is it hard on your hands to handle a hot whole chicken, it is also impossible to get a clean cut out of it.  You’ll end up mashing the skin and meat and it won’t look presentable.  If the chicken is still hot, wrap it in saran wrap, and put it into the fridge for 10 mins. 
 In fact, that’s what I did for tonight.  It is getting warm this week, so the room temperature isn’t cooling my chicken fast enough.  The saran wrap is to prevent over drying in the refridgerator. 
After it’s cooled, we’ll be chopping this up.  First take out the legs and wings.  These are actually the easy parts.  No brute force required.  You just need to gently cut down at the joints.  If you’re not sure about the exact locations, let your knive and your past memories of the food guide you.  You’ll likely make mistakes, but that’s the way things are. 
Wings are located around the bulge you see on the lower left of the photo.  Legs are a little trickier, cut the skin around there open first to see better where the leg is attached to the body.  This is also the time when you’ll discover that you’ve undercooked your chicken and will need to microwave this thing for another 3 mins.  Like I said, thighs are the hardest.  I’ve discovered undercooked meat many times this way.  So put this thing back in the saran wrap and put it in the microwave if you’ve undercooked. 
Unfortunately, you’ll also need to let the chicken cool again.  But at least modern technoloy allows us to do this quickly.  I’ve thought about how to fix this more quickly before but have always returned to the same solution.  You just can’t go ahead and chop up the bird first with undercooked meat and then heat it up in the microwave afterward.  The raw meat is hard to cut, and actually, your knife will have a hard time getting through the joints if it’s not cooked properly.  so if you proceed to hack through the chicken this way and then microwave, you’ll end up with a mess.  The family can wait for 15 mins while this thing gets nuked and cooled in the fridge. 
After you’ve removed the legs and wings, stand the chicken body on its butt.  Cut down on the sides of the body, where the wings and legs used to be.  There will not be any meat there, since you’ve already removed the wings and legs.  So there will only be a few pieces of rib cages to cut through.  The goal here is to separate the breasts from the rest of the chicken.  Usually Chinese will eat every part of the chicken, like the back, neck and the tail.  But I understand if an American family isn’t going to pick through the carcass like us.  Once you’ve liberated the breasts, cut it in half along its chest bone and in smaller cross sections.  so it looks like something like this:


 !A note here, since Chinese grow up eating this and know that there are bones in the breast pieces, we  eat slowly and pick out the bones.  But since an American family may not be aware of this, it would be a good idea to remove the bones from the chicken breasts before all the lateral and sectional cuts, so that the only parts that do contain bones will be the wings and the legs, which will be quite obvious that they have bones.
 The chopped whole chicken is usually served family style like this with the dipping sauce on the side, but for my small family, I’ve assembled the dish with all the side dishes and sprinkled the ginger scallions oil on top of the chicken. 

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