Samsui Ginger Chicken

Monday, 21 May 2012

Do you make 白切鸡, 'white-cut chicken'? If you do, chances are you stuff the cavity of the chicken with spring onions and ginger. After checking out the recipes online and in a few cookbooks, I think nine out of 10 people stuff their chicken. It's like these people, when they see an empty chicken, simply 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?

Because jamming the cavity stops the hot water from circulating freely. Hence, the chicken is heated from the outside only, 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, and meat that's 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. Naturally, if you live somewhere where chickens are sold headless and neckless, getting the bird out of the hot water is a bit of a problem!

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. Unless you're following the same tradition, there's really 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 cooks 白切鸡 by steeping the whole chicken, literally head to toe, in hot water. I, however, prefer to use a rice cooker on warm mode. This way, the meat juices released during cooking aren't lost in an ocean of water. Instead, the flavourful liquid may be added to the ginger sauce to give it extra oomph.

Before using the meat juices to make the ginger sauce, I drizzle the good stuff on the chicken. Basting, contrary to what some roast chicken recipes say, does NOT make the meat more juicy. I know because I once weighed a chicken before and after basting. But the extra step is useful because, as the liquid flows through the chicken, some of the salt is left in the meat. Which tastes better when it's salted, everyone knows that.

The best cooking technique in the world wouldn't make good 白切鸡 if you use a poor quality chicken with mushy skin and cottony meat. And don't think a bigger chicken would always taste better. It used to but nowadays size is no longer a good indication of flavour. Bigger chickens may just be pumped with more growth hormones than smaller ones! That's cheaper than investing time and feed to let the birds grow and mature in flavour.

In the place called Little Red Dot, 白切鸡 is usually served Hainanese style with garlic chilli sauce, grated ginger and dark soya sauce. The Cantonese style, with a sauce made with ginger, spring onions and oil, isn't common. I've not seen it anywhere here except Soup Restaurant where it's called Samsui Ginger Chicken. The restaurant serves its signature dish with lettuce leaves, which diners use to wrap the chicken and ginger sauce. This is a sexed up version of the classic style which is sans lettuce, and may be found everywhere in Hong Kong.

To some people, poached or steamed chicken may be just part of a low-carb, high-protein diet. It's something they tolerate, not enjoy. Poor things! (The chickens which die for an unworthy cause, not people). I'd tell the calorie counters to try Samsui Ginger Chicken except they'll refuse to eat the chicken skin, and probably make the ginger sauce without oil. *shudder* *wipe grease from chin* I wonder if they might change their mind if I tell them Samsui women, who loved nothing more than Samsui Ginger Chicken, were all skinny as a beanpole. Nah, cardboard chicken makes them feel all virtuous. Meanwhile, Samsui Ginger Chicken makes me feel all happy. *wipe more grease from chin*

Related article
Debunking Beer Can Chicken: A Waste Of Good Beer (And It Is Dangerous)

(Recipe for 4 persons)
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 and rinse; slice thinly; crush slightly
20 g spring onion
trim and rinse; halve lengthwise; crush slightly
姜茸 (ginger sauce) – makes about ⅔ cup
100 g young ginger
peel, rinse and 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 and 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; wash and drain the rest, or 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) The cooking time varies with not just the size but also the type of chicken. Organic chickens have denser meat and bones, so they need to be cooked longer compared to non-organic chickens of the same size. (2) If you live in the place called Little Red Dot, take note that the supermarkets sell both male and female kampong chickens. For白切鸡, you'd of course want a female bird. (3) The chicken shouldn't be too big so that there's room in the rice cooker for the heat to circulate.

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. 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.

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

Serving: 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, please take note, taste of ginger and spring onions. 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. May be enjoyed as starter, finger food, salad, breadless sandwich, main course, midnight snack, whatever.


scheep said...

I'm all for doing things the lazy way, so the stuffing the chicken bit in the rice cooker sounds brilliant to me. And my mouth is already watering from looking at the green ginger mash. Nothing I love to put on top of my rice better.

KT said...

'Lazy'? Ouch! ; - )

Creamdeluxec said...

I love Samsui ginger chicken! Only made "bai zan ji" once when living abroad, wish I knew of this method then. Definitely gonna try this now. Any recipe on chicken rice? :)

KT said...

Hello there

Yes, chicken rice is on my to-eventually-do list.

Eirene said...

Hi KT,
First of all, i would like to thank you for sharing all the good recipes that we should try and enjoy. I remember that my husband & me ate this at "Soup Restaurant" and we really liked it...seems to be very healthy.
I would like to try to make this at you happen to make the "ginger dipping sauce" for this one?
More power to you...thanks again!

KT said...

Please refer to the recipe above.

Yoyo said...

I try to make it follow your receipt! It's great successful! I am Cantonese. The dish taste really like my hometown's 白切鸡!even better! I changed an ingredient of the Ginger sauce. It's really nice and taste!!! I love it! Because I am living New Zealand and hard to try this original taste 白切鸡, your receipt is really help me also reduce my home sick. Appreciate you share this with peoples!! Regards!!

Yoyo said...

receipt=recipe, sorry for misspelling.:-p

vanglinz said...

I've never tried cooking chicken in a rice cooker before. I can't wait to try this recipe! Thank you for sharing!

kt said...

You're welcome, vanglinz. Good luck with the chicken!

reginafgs said...

Thank you very much for your recipe. Tried it last week and everything turned out delicious. Thanks for all the tips too. My kids loved it and said that it's similar to the samsui chicken from Soup Restaurant. i made the ginger and spring onion sauce separately. All your recipes are great. Kudos on your awesome blog.

Bernie said...

I would love to see the video for Samsui Ginger Chicken; could you reload it please?
Thank you!

Gigibe said...

KT, just want to thank you for sharing wonderful recipes and "kung hu" used. Glad to know that some of the food I can prepare myself without having to travel back to Singapore. I've tried some and love it each time. Can't wait to try your Samsui Ginger Chicken. :))

CCL said...

Hi KT,
Thank you for your fabulous recipe for the chicken. I was a little unconvinced when i rested the chicken before serving. Thought it dry out. But it turned out FANTASTIC! It will definitely be a familiar dish on our dinner table. Love it love it love it. Xx

YEU said...

I'm so going to try this. Thanks so much. Love your recipes and comments, which were so "direct" and hilarious. Been reading your blog for the past 2 days and can't get enough. Thanks KT !

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