KitchenTigress: Samsui Ginger Chicken

Samsui Ginger Chicken

Do you make 白切鸡, "white-cut chicken"?

If you do, chances are you stuff the cavity of your chicken with spring onions and ginger. Most people, when they see an empty chicken, just can't resist shoving in something. If you're one of them, I'm sorry to have to tell you, the method is wrong.

Why is it wrong?
raw chicken stuffed with spring onions and ginger
Because jamming the cavity stops the hot water from circulating freely. Hence, the chicken is heated mainly from the outside, prolonging the cooking. By the time the inside is done, the skin would be overcooked and soft, and the meat on the outside dry and coarse.

A good 白切鸡, one that's not overcooked outside or inside, should have skin that's still springy. The meat should be soft, juicy, and silky smooth. Some people even like it slightly undercooked with the bones still red.

To cook 白切鸡 the correct way, don't block the passageway. Hold the chicken by its head, dunk it in boiling water, allowing the cavity to fill up, then drain the water back into the pot. Repeat the process 2-3 times. This warms up the cavity, and helps the chicken cook evenly as it steeps in hot water.

In the old days in China, common folks usually ate chicken only when they were making religious offerings. For these festivities, the chicken had to be whole, not cut up.

Nowadays, there's no need to cook a chicken the old-fashioned way. The head, neck and feet may be trimmed, along with the spine. Instead of a cul-de-sac cavern, the back of the chicken is wide open. Heat circulates freely, so the chicken cooks evenly without any dunking.

The traditional method uses a big pot of water. I, however, prefer to use a rice cooker on warm mode, with very little water added. Done this way, the meat juices released during cooking aren't lost in an ocean of water. I add the flavourful liquid to the ginger sauce to give it extra oomph.
In Singapore, 白切鸡 is usually served with garlic chilli sauce, grated ginger and dark soya sauce. The Cantonese style, with a sauce made with ginger, spring onions and oil, is very common in Hong Kong. Of course, both versions are good, in different ways.

How to make Samsui ginger chicken

Step-by-step guide

Juicy, succulent "white-cut chicken" with ginger sauce is a great Cantonese classic. Wrapping the meat and sauce in lettuce makes it even better. This recipe uses a rice cooker to cook a whole chicken. The chicken shouldn't be too big so there's room in the rice cooker for the heat to circulate.

samsui ginger chicken

  • 1 kampong/organic hen weighing 1.0-1.1 kg, or 850-950 g without head & feet – discard head; trim and reserve neck, feet and spine for making stock; rinse chicken thoroughly, removing feathers if any
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 20 g old ginger – peel, rinse, slice thinly, crush slightly
  • 20 g spring onions – trim, rinse, halve lengthwise, crush slightly
Ginger sauce (makes about ⅔ cup)
  • 100 g young ginger – peel, rinse, pound finely, squeeze to remove 3 tbsp juice, set both juice and pulp aside
  • 30 g spring onions, bottom part only if you like a stronger onion flavour – trim, rinse, chop finely
  • 1½ tbsp groundnut oil
  • 1½ tbsp white sesame oil
  • ¾ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp chicken powder
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce – halve lengthwise; reserve outer and innermost leaves for other dishes; from remaining leaves, wash and drain the amount you want; tear bigger leaves into smaller pieces just big enough to wrap bite size chicken; chill till ready to serve
  • ½ cucumber – wash, slice thinly and arrange on serving plate in a circle
  1. Chicken: Whilst preparing chicken as detailed above, place 2 tbsp water in a rice cooker on cook mode. After rice cooker changes to warm mode, place prepared chicken in the pot, skin side down. Spread ginger and spring onions on chicken. Add 2 tbsp water. Leave cooker on cook mode for 5 minutes. You should now see steam rising steadily from the air vent. Switch to warm mode and let chicken cook till juices run clear when a chopstick is inserted into the RIGHT thigh, about 30 minutes. Discard spring onions and ginger.

    Remaining ginger juice may be frozen, then thawed for marinating meat, making sweet potato soup, teh halia, etc.

  2. Place chicken in running water till cool, about 5 minutes. Drain. Drizzle evenly with meat juices released during cooking. Repeat twice. Place chicken on a plate, minus juices. Brush with oil used for making ginger sauce (see below). Cover till ready to serve.

  3. Ginger sauce: Add meat juices to ginger. Stir through. Add spring onions and stir again. Heat white sesame oil and groundnut oil till just smoking. Drizzle on ginger and spring onions, leaving 1 tsp or so for brushing chicken (see above). Sprinkle with salt and chicken powder. Mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, adding some ginger juice if you like it more spicy. Set aside for flavours to mingle.

  4. Plate up: Wearing gloves and using a chef's knife, halve chicken lengthwise. Cut along joints to separate wings, drumsticks and thighs. Cut each wing into 2 pieces along main joint. Debone breast by pulling. Cut meat into bite size pieces, by tapping knife sharply. Slice drumsticks and thighs lengthwise on side with less skin. Pull bones to loosen, then cut tendons at both ends of bones. Cut bite size as before. Keep bones for making stock (which will taste of ginger and spring onions.)

  5. Arrange meat on serving plate garnished with sliced cucumber. Serve with ginger sauce and lettuce leaves. To eat, wrap chicken and dollop of ginger sauce with lettuce.