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A whole white cut chicken is a staple of Chinese reunion meals, especially at Chinese New Year. The chicken represents happiness, health and purity, while serving it whole symbolizes completeness and family unity.
I’m also happy to report that this chicken, along with its two terrific dipping sauces, is really easy to prepare. If you’re looking to make your first really classic Chinese holiday meal, this might be your recipe.
Better start with a note about the chicken. When you think of cooking “a whole chicken,” you may not be thinking about it the Chinese way, that is, with head and claws attached. I’ll own up to removing these extra parts, but it’s something to keep in mind if you have a particularly traditional Chinese grandma at your table.
I would also note that the chicken really is the star of this meal. Quality matters — this is the time to pay a little bit extra for the organic, free-range bird, rather than settling for a garden variety oven roaster.
The recipe requires a relatively short list of ingredients, the majority of which are available at any grocery store. I ran through Oakland Chinatown to pick up ginger, green onions and red chilies, then bought my bird from the great guys at T&S Market. You’ll want a chicken that’s somewhere between 3-5 pounds. Anything larger and it won’t fit in a standard-sized pot.
Here’s how to make a whole white cut chicken, step-by-step. The detailed tutorial with pictures and directions is at the bottom of the page.
Your turn! What tips can you share from your family’s recipe? Want to ask a question before you start cooking? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
Whole White Cut Chicken Recipe
Makes: 1 Chicken | Prep Time: 1 Hour | Cook Time: 1 Hour
2 teaspoons salt
1 fresh chicken, 3-5 pounds
3 green onions
4 slices of fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Ginger Scallion Dipping Sauce
1 1/2 inch fresh ginger
2 green onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oil
Chili Dipping Sauce
6 finger-length red chilies, halved and deseeded
1/4 cup chicken stock
pinch of salt
1. Generously salt the chicken’s exterior and body cavity. Rub well and set aside for up to an hour.
2. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil and add the green onions, ginger and sesame oil. Hold the chicken above the pot by its legs and ladle hot water over the bird’s exterior and inside its body cavity, until it is lightly scalded all over and begins to change color. Next, immerse the chicken into the boiling water, breast side up. Cover and boil for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and steep in the pot for another 45 minutes. Remove the chicken and soak in an ice water bath for 15 minutes, to stop the cooking process. Finally, drain thoroughly and set aside to rest, while straining and reserving the stock.
3. Make the ginger scallion dipping sauce by finely chopping the ginger and scallions and combining with the salt in a small bowl. Heat the oil to its smoking point on the stove and then pour over the ginger, scallion and salt mixture. Mix well, then transfer to a small serving bowl and set aside.
4. Make the chili dipping sauce by finely chopping the chilies, then adding a pinch of salt and the chicken stock. Pulse a few times with a stick blender to combine. Transfer to a small serving bowl and set aside.
5. Slice the cooked chicken into serving pieces, arrange on a large serving platter and serve with hot rice, the ginger scallion dipping sauce, the chili dipping sauce and condiments like soy sauce, oyster sauce and mustard.
Start by gathering all of your ingredients. You’ll want to wash the chicken and pat it dry, taking care to remove any pin feathers that may have been left behind by the store. If you’re using dried chili peppers for the chili sauce, you’ll also want to get them soaking.
Start by generously salting the chicken on all sides and inside the body cavity. Rub the salt in well to make sure the entire bird is well-coated. If you’ve got the time, let the bird marinate in the salt for up to an hour, but this isn’t a requirement.
Get your pot of water boiling with the green onions, ginger and sesame oil tossed in. It’s a game of chicken, yep, to submerge your bird in the pot without having the liquid overflow. As a result, it’s helpful to heat another two cups of water in the microwave to top the pot off, in case you end up short.
When the water reaches a rolling boil, hold your chicken by its legs and ladle hot water over the entire body. You want to scald the exterior of the chicken and also flush out any cold water that may be left inside the cavity.
Next, submerge the chicken in the broth with the breast side up. It’s OK if the very top of the chicken peeks out over the water, but you want to make sure it’s pretty much covered.
Cover and boil the chicken for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn off the heat, leave covered and allow the chicken to steep in the pot for 45 more minutes. The chicken is done when you stick a chopstick into the thigh and the juices run clear.
Remove the chicken and place into an ice water bath for 15 minutes, to stop the cooking process. Finally, drain thoroughly and set aside for 15 minutes to dry. Don’t forget to strain and reserve the chicken stock — that broth is amazing stuff! Drink it as is or use it as a base for soups or sauces later in the week.
While the chicken is cooking, make your dipping sauces. The first is a classic ginger scallion sauce. Chop up your ginger and scallions, while heating the oil to its smoking point on the stove.
Pour the hot oil over the the ginger and scallions to flash cook them. Mix well and set aside in the refrigerator.
The second dipping sauce is a chili sauce. First, chop your fresh or dried chilies and then add a pinch of salt.
Then pour the reserved chicken stock over the chilies. From there, give the entire mixture a couple of pulses with a stick blender. Once again, set aside in the refrigerator.
With your chicken and sauces ready, it’s time to eat! The most traditional custom is to bring the entire chicken to the table rather than carving it in the kitchen, lest your sense of unity and completeness be cut, too. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
When you’re ready to eat, serve the chicken with hot rice, your ginger scallion sauce and your chili sauce, along with other traditional condiments like soy sauce, oyster sauce and mustard. The chicken meat is tender and juicy, with subtle flavors from the broth that play off the stronger tastes found in your dipping sauces. Enjoy!
HT: Recipe adapted from Chinese Feasts & Festivals: A Cookbook.