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Paul Winalski

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IOTM: Chinese Red-cooked Chicken

by Paul Winalski » Sat Jan 13, 2007 3:09 am

This is one of my very favorite recipes of all. I include it here because the major companion to the chicken is our IOTM--onions.

Ingredients:

1 3-4 lb chicken, cut up into serving pieces (I often use 3-4 lb of chicken thighs, each cut into thirds, which I prefer to breast meat for the extra flavor; I prefer skin-on)

2 medium onions (or 1 large Spanish yellow)
3-4 slices (1/8" thick) ginger root
3-4 TBS vegetable oil (I prefer peanut oil)
5-6 TBS water
5-6 TBS dark soy sauce
1 tsp thick soy sauce (see note) or 2 tsp sugar
5-6 TBS shao hsing rice wine (or dry sherry)

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

1) If starting with whole chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces (breast/thigh/wings/legs). Then cut each piece into thirds (which gives you pieces more easily handled with chopsticks).

2) Peel and shred the ginger into matchstick pieces. Cut the onions in half lengthwise, then slice thinly.

3) Heat the oil in a Chinese sandy pot or an ovenproof casserole or other oven-suitable pot over moderate heat. Add the chicken and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until the chicken is cooked (turns white) over all the surface. It doesn't have to brown.

4) Add the onions and ginger. Stir-fry 2-3 minutes, at least until the onion slices completely separate.

5) Sprinkle with the water, and both soy sauces (or dark soy and the sugar). Stir to coat the chicken thoroughly.

6) Either cover the sandy pot and place it in a 350-degree F oven, or place the casserole (covered) in same oven, or transfer the whole lot to a vessel that can be put, covered, in the oven.

7) Bake for one hour, taking the vessel out and stirring it, twice, during that cooking time (i.e., at 20 and 40 minutes into the cooking).

8) Add the shao hsing or dried sherry at the 1-hour mark. Return the vessel to the oven and let cook undisturbed for another 1/2 hour.

9) Remove and skim off any excess fat (note--cooled, the fat makes great schmaltz!). Serve the chicken and gravy (not the removed schmaltz :) ) over lots of steamed rice.

NOTE: Dark soy sauce differs from your usual light soy sauce in having some molasses blended in. There is also thick soy sauce, which more resembles blackstrap molasses or (gasp) vegemite in its consistency. Thick soy sauce is most commonly used to give the brown color to fried rice. Here, I like to add a teaspoon or so in place of additional sugar to the red-cooked chicken, just before you casserole it. I find it gives better color. If you can't get thick soy sauce, use 2 teaspoons of sugar (preferably brown, but white is OK) instead.

NOTE 2: Shao hsing wine is a fermented rice wine. It's available in the USA in oriental supermarkets, but always as a "cooking wine" that has added salt. If you use this, you'll get authentic flavors, but you might want to cut back the dark soy by 1 tsp, if you care about saltiness. Or, use dry fino sherry as a substitute (I like Lustau Jarana Fino).


Served hot, this is meant to have a gravy of thin consistency, but explosive flavor, and to be served over lots of rice. The cooking process extracts a lot of excellent gelatin from the chicken skin, and pectin from the onions. This means that the gravy, skimmed of its fat, can be used as the basis for a wonderful glacee coating, should you wish to serve the red-cooked chicken cold (and this is a popular way to do it in traditional Chinese banquets).


I love this dish because it is simultaneously so simple and non-fussy to prepare, and yet with little extra effort you can turn it into something elegant. And it's just so yummy!

Salut,

-Paul W.

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