Thursday, March 24, 2011

Daokou poached chicken

Although Henan cuisine is traditionally considered by Chinese gourmets to be part the great northern swath of cooking styles called Shandong cuisine, my personal belief is that the cooking styles of Henan are actually much more like that of its neighbor to the east, Anhui province, as they share much of the same climate and terrain.

These two provinces also share a favorite poultry dish, for Anhui's is none other than Fuliji Poached Chicken (Fujili shao ji), which is pretty much the identical twin of this Daokou hometown favorite. And if that were not enough, both of these are direct descendants of one of Shandong's greatest poultry dishes, Five Fragrance Fall-Off-The-Bone-Tender Braised Chicken (Wuxiang tuogu paji). Culinary lineages are often more complicated than ethnic heritage of the average American, it seems.

In many ways this is an extravagant dish because it is fried in toasted sesame oil, and the blast of its mouthwatering fragrance will wake up your appetite with a roar. The skin caramelizes as it fries thanks to the thick sugary goo called maltose, although honey will do in a pinch.

This deep brown chicken is finally set down into a pot of herbal goodness that will add other layers of delectable aromas to this fragrant cloud. The good news about all this prep and cost is that both the oil and the poaching broth can be used a couple of more times as long as they are properly stored, so consider them savory investments. 

The finished dish
I have modified the original recipe a bit, since it calls for 13 herbs that are often quite hard to locate; those in the directions here are generally easy to find even in the States, but whatever you cannot find, just leave it out, and the chicken will still be marvelous!

Serve this chicken as a starter at either room temperature or just slightly warmed. You will want to chill the chicken after it is done because it is so tender that it cannot be cut up without falling apart. So, let it come to room temperature, cover it and chill it overnight, and then cut it into pieces the next day. This is a great party food, as it can be done in steps many days ahead of time, and it freezes beautifully.


Daokou poached chicken 
Fuliji shaoji  符離集燒雞  
Henan, Anhui
Serves 6 to 8 as an entrée 


Poaching broth:
4 cups filtered water or stock
½ cup Shaoxing rice wine
¼ cup fish sauce (if no stock is used), or salt to taste
¼ cup light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rock sugar or granulated sugar
A large handful of dried tangerine or orange peel
1 tablespoon shajiang (sand ginger)
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon fennel
4 star anise
½ a luohanguo, or increase sugar to taste
½ stick cinnamon 
1 teaspoon whole cloves
3 caoguo
Shellac the chicken before frying
Chicken:
One fryer (3 to 4 pounds), trimmed, rinsed, and patted very dry
½ cup maltose
4 cups roasted sesame oil
1. Toss all of the poaching broth ingredients together in a large, narrow pot like a pasta pot; it should be just wide enough to hold the chicken. Bring the ingredients to a boil and then allow them to simmer while you prepare the chicken.

2. Pat the chicken all over again with a paper towel to ensure that the skin is dry and tacky, since the maltose will glide off of any wet areas. Fold the wings underneath themselves so that they lie flat against the body, and tie the legs together along with the tail so that you have a nice, tight, football-shaped chicken; this will help keep any pieces from burning and allow all of the chicken to brown evenly.

3. Melt the maltose or honey until it is runny, place the chicken on a clean plate, and then use a pastry brush to complete coat the chicken with the syrup. If the maltose starts to harden because of the cold chicken, just reheat it as needed. 


The correct temperature
4. Heat the oil in a wok until a wooden or bamboo chopstick inserted in the oil immediately bubbles all over. Do not drop any moisture into the oil after this point, as it will explode and possibly burn you.

5. Gently lower the chicken into the oil and carefully turn it over and around in the hot oil so that all of the surfaces are a deep, mahogany brown. 

6.  I like to use two bamboo tongs to do this, as they can be shoved into the top and bottom cavities, be used to prop up the chicken as it browns on a wobbly side, and even flip it up on its end. Try not to use metal spatulas, which will tear the skin. If the skin does tear in places, or if it sticks to the wok, don't worry, as the chicken will be chopped up before serving and no one will be the wiser.

Fry until deliciously brown
7. When the chicken is completely browned, gently lower it into the poaching broth and add water, if needed, to cover the chicken. Bring the broth to a boil and then lower the heat to the lowest setting, which should give you a very, very slow simmer. Cover the pot and allow the chicken to gently poach for about 2 hours, then turn off the heat and let the chicken rest in the covered pot until the broth is warm, at least 2 hours. Use a wide strainer or spatula to help you carefully lift the chicken out of the broth and onto a plate - use extreme care, as it will fall apart easily. Drain any liquids back into the pot, let the chicken come to room temperature, and then chill it for at least 4 hours or overnight. Chop into pieces and serve at room temperature or slightly warm; no sauces or accompaniments are needed.

Note: The frying oil may be strained, refrigerated, and used again, and the poaching liquid can be strained and frozen. 

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