Thursday, July 7, 2011

Funky chicken Hong Kong style

Nothing beats a good roast chicken for ease and versatility.  I'm addicted to my tried and true recipe that calls for just a whole organic and free-range fryer that's basted with dark soy sauce, roasted sesame oil, and lots and lots and lots of smashed garlic cloves.  This is a simple recipe for success, one that I've made so many times I could do it in my sleep.  This is also the most delicious way to roast a turkey, too, by the way.  With any bird, the skin turns a deep, dark brown, becomes enticingly crispy, and the meat is moist and flavorful.

My one secret?  Cook the bird in as small a pan as possible.  This cuts down on the heat circulating around the meat and drying it out.  What you do is just smear the sauce all over the bird, slap it into a greased pan that has at least 3" sides (which also protect the flesh), pop it into a 375F degree oven, and then start basting it once the juices start to flow, or about 30 minutes into the cooking time.  Depending upon your stove and the bird, the total cooking time should be between an hour to 90 minutes for a fryer.  

The best way to be sure is the pierce the thigh meat near the bone; if the juices run clear, your work is done.  Just remove the bird, let it cool off for at least 20 minutes so that the juices get reabsorbed by the meat, and then tear it apart.  The meat is so tender that you honestly don't need a knife.  I just channel my inner cavewoman and remove the legs and wings and thighs before ripping off the breast meat.  Degrease the drippings and serve them on the side.  All you need is whatever else you want with it: salad or stir-fried greens, bread or salad, beer or wine.  Leftovers disappear all by themselves, and the carcass can be thrown into the stock pot.  My idea of the perfect meal.

My funky duo
And now I have a new friend in town: a Hong Kong take on roast chicken that has all of that wonderful funkiness that I mentioned not too long ago.  This time the funk is courtesy of two southern Chinese staples: fish sauce and shrimp paste.  We've used fish sauce here before, but this is the first time that we've talked about xiajiang, or shrimp paste, a pale lavender mixture that is not for the faint of heart or dainty of nose.  However, if you can get past the ripeness of its smell, you might find yourself falling in love.

Cantonese cuisine has many wonderful uses for this masterly odoriferous paste.  It's incredible when fried in oil as a base for pork ribs or in any number of casseroles.  But this is the first time that I have tried it on roasted chicken, and it is simply marvelous.  The funk in this recipe is understated and comes at you out of left field, although you can ramp up the shrimp paste to whatever amount you like by simply adding more to the marinade.  The fish sauce seems almost demure by comparison, so try it first as suggested here and adjust it to your liking for the next go-around.  Store the leftover shrimp sauce in the fridge, where it will probably outlast both you and your appliances.

The final unusual ingredient here is another denizen of China's tropical reaches: lemon grass.  You can find fresh lemongrass in many Asian markets.  Just look for plump stalks with root ends that aren't mushy or black, and the upper parts of the leaves should not be too dried out.  To prepare them, trim off about half an inch to an inch of the root end (and stick them in some soil in a warm area if you want to try to root them yourself for a home grown crop), peel off any dried layers, and then cut off the stalks where they start to look dessicated.  Rinse the stalks under the tap, pat dry, and then cut them finely. 

Fresh lemon grass
Lemon grass is quite tough, so unless you are going to be straining it out of the sauce, you really need to get it chopped into teeny tiny pieces, as close to a mush as possible.  I use a Vita-Mix blender, which I'm pretty sure could reduce a car engine into pulp if I ever dropped one in there, so I merely chop the lemon grass coarsely before popping it into the blender along with the rest of the ingredients.  If you have a less than virile blender, don't burn out your motor... just chop away at the lemon grass or settle for some fresh lemon zest.

This recipe is terrific because the chicken steams in its own juices for about 90 minutes, making it juicy and plump, and then it is roasted uncovered for another hour to heighten the flavors and crisp up the skin.  Delicious!



Funky chicken Hong Kong style 
Gangshi xiajiang kaoji   港式蝦醬烤雞  
Hong Kong
Serves 6 to 8 as part of a multicourse meal, 2 to 4 as a main dish

1 whole fryer, preferably organic and free range
1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed and very finely chopped, or the zest of one lemon
6 cloves garlic
Half a medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon Red Chili Oil
1 to 2 tablespoons shrimp paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1. Start this recipe at least early in the day that you want to serve it.  Rinse and pat dry the bird, removing any excess skin and tucking the wings under so that they lie flat against the body.  Place the chicken and giblets in a large Ziploc bag.
Wrap it up tight in foil

2. Place the rest of the ingredients in a blender and grind them into a fine sauce, stopping and scraping down the sides as needed.  Pour the sauce over the chicken, both inside and out.  Seal the bag shut and shake the chicken around so that every bit of it gets covered in sauce.  Place the bagged chicken in a bowl (in case there are leaks) and refrigerate the chicken for at least 8 hours (and up to 24 hours) so that it can marinate.

3. Heat the oven to 45o degrees F.  Prepare a roasting pan that is just a little bit bigger than the chicken, and with sides that are at least 3 inches tall.  Line the pan with a piece of foil that is large enough to wrap the chicken in, and place a small trivet at the bottom of the pan on the foil.  Drain the chicken and place it (as well as any giblets) on the trivet and carefully wrap up the chicken tightly.  Place the chicken in the oven and roast at 450 for 15 minutes, and then turn the heat down to 375 and cook the chicken for another 75 minutes.
Baste! And baste some more!

4. Open up the foil so that the chicken is completely exposed.  Return the chicken to the oven and let it roast for another hour, basting often, until the skin is dark and crispy.  Test the thigh meat for doneness by piercing it with a knife - the juices should run clear.

5. Remove the chicken and let it cool down to room temperature.  Tear it apart into pieces or chop it up, whatever you prefer.  Degrease the juices, reduce them if the flavors need concentrating, adjust the seasonings as desired, and serve them hot, although the chicken is delicious at any temperature.

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