Oct 4th, 2004
I've talked before about how much I like Mark Bittman's recipes. They're minimalist and unfussy, yet flavorful and interesting. I've had this recipe for soy-poached chicken marked as one to try for a while, but it's hard to find a 2 1/2 to 3 pound chicken these days. Most of the whole chickens that are sold in the supermarket are closer to 5 pounds, which means they are bigger and therefore older birds. The older the bird the stringier and less tender the meat. But last weekend my grocery store happened to have small organic chickens available. They were labelled 'young chickens', which gave me pause, but they were exactly the right size and organic to boot. It is a bit hard to justify spending more money to buy less chicken, but I bashed my inner cheapskate until she shut up, and pressed on.
Because the chicken is smaller than what we're used to using for a roasting chicken, the cooking time is quite a bit shorter as well, so this actually is a workable weeknight recipe. Bittman mentions that you can poach some root vegetables along with the chicken in the soy sauce mixture for added flavor and to serve along side, but I found that they soaked up too much of the sauce and were too salty. I think that chopping up some 2-inch chunks of veggies like parsnips, turnips, carrots, or potatoes (sweet or otherwise) and roasting them with some olive oil and salt in a 400F oven while the chicken is cooking would be a better alternative. Serve with jasmine rice and some of the poaching liquid drizzled over the roasted veggies and you've got a delicious, unusual dinner.
The recipe uses entire bottles of both soy sauce and wine, but you can save the sauce in the freezer and use it again and again - just topping up the liquids as necessary. Also, I didn't have any mushroom-flavored soy sauce, so I threw in some frozen cubes of shitake soaking water I had in my freezer. Don't know if it made any difference but it made me happy.
Soy-Poached Chicken3 cups mushroom-flavored soy sauce, or any dark soy sauce
3 cups (one bottle) mei kuei lu chiew wine, or any floral, off-dry wine, like Gewurztraminer or Muscat
2 pieces star anise
14 ounces yellow rock sugar (1 box), or 1 cup white sugar
3 ounces giner (about a 5 ounce knob), cut into thick slices and bruised w/ the side of a knife
10 medium scallions, untrimmed
1 whole chicken (2 ½ to 3 pounds)
In a narrow pot with about a 6-quart capacity, combine the soy sauce, wine, 2 cups water, and star anise over high heat. While the sugar is still in its box (or wrapped in a towel), smack it several times with a hammer or rolling pin to break it up, it need not be too fine. Add the sugar and ginger to the liquid and bring it to a rolling boil.
Add 6 of the scallions, then gently and slowly lower the chicken into the liquid, breast side down. (In a narrow pot, the liquid will easily cover the chicken; if it is close, just dunk the chicken under the liquid as it cooks. If it is not close, add a mixture of equal parts soy sauce and water to raise the level). Bring the liquid back to a boil and boil steadily for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and turn the chicken over so the breast side is up. Let it sit in the hot liquid for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, trim and mince the remaining scallions and preheat the oven to 500F, if you like.
Carefully remove the chicken from the liquid and serve it, hot or at room temperature. Or place it in a skillet or roasting pan. Roast for 5 minutes, or until nicely browned; keep an eye on it, because it can burn easily. In either-case, reheat the sauce and, when the chicken is ready, carve it. Serve the chicken with a few spoonfuls of sauce on it. Pour another cup or so of the sauce in a bowl and add the mince scallions; pass this at the table.
-The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, Mark Bittman