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Mother's hen

Chicken poached the traditional way, give or take a few tweaks, could leave you salivating for more

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

One of the first things my mother taught me to cook was Chinese poached chicken. She boiled a pot of water flavoured with ginger and spring onions, added the chicken, brought it back to the boil then turned off the heat, letting the chicken poach. After 30 minutes, she boiled the water again, turned off the heat and let the chicken poach for another 30 minutes.

I've changed her recipe slightly; as the legs take longer to cook than the rest of the bird, I remove them and let them poach for a little longer. The poaching times given below work for a 1.5kg chicken; if the bird you have is larger or smaller, adjust the timing. I like the chicken meat to be a little pink right at the bone, but if you want it fully cooked, use the longer poaching times. Plunging the cooked chicken into a bowl of iced water tightens the skin around the meat (although this doesn't work for birds that have been frozen); rubbing it with sesame oil adds fragrance and flavour.

The poaching liquid can be simmered longer to make chicken stock, then chilled or frozen.

 

Saliva chicken (pictured)
This dish, sometimes called the more elegant "mouth-watering chicken", gets its name because it's so delicious it gets your salivary glands going.

 

For poaching the chicken:
1 fresh chicken weighing 1.5kg
Fine sea salt
2 spring onions
3 slices (about 3mm-thick)
Fresh ginger, peeled
About 15ml sesame oil

 

For the sauce and to serve:
1 ½ tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 medium-sized garlic clove, minced
1-2 very thin ginger slices, peeled and minced
30ml regular soy sauce
30ml light soy sauce
20ml dark vinegar
10 grams granulated sugar, or to taste
20ml sesame oil
Chilli oil, to taste
35 grams roasted peanuts
Sesame seeds
2 stalks Chinese celery
Fresh coriander leaves

 

Take the chicken from the fridge 30 to 45 minutes before poaching it (if it's too cold, you'll need to adjust the cooking time). Sever the neck from the chicken, cutting as close to the body as possible. Chop off and discard the head. Cut off the wing tips and the feet. Sprinkle salt liberally over the skin and into the cavity of the chicken, rub it in and leave for about 10 minutes. Thoroughly rinse the chicken inside and out. Put the chicken in a large pot, add enough water to cover by 1cm then remove the bird (this helps you measure the correct amount of water). Use a sharp cleaver to cut off the chicken legs (drumstick and thigh) from the rest of the bird.

Put the spring onions and ginger in the pot along with the wing tips, feet and neck. Bring to the boil then add the remaining chicken pieces (the legs and body). Let the water come to the boil again then turn off the heat, cover the pan with the lid and poach the chicken for 20 to 25 minutes. Turn the bird over in the pan, heat it until the water boils, then cover the pan with the lid, turn off the heat and poach the chicken for another 20 to 25 minutes.

Take the chicken body from the poaching liquid and place it immediately in a large bowl of heavily iced water. Heat the pan again until the water boils then turn off the flame, cover the pan with the lid and poach the legs for another 10 to 20 minutes. Remove the legs from the water and put them into the bowl of iced water.

When the chicken pieces are cool, remove them from the water and pat them dry with paper towels before rubbing the sesame oil over the skin and the meat.

Make the sauce. In a small unoiled skillet, toast the Sichuan peppercorns over a low flame, stirring constantly. Put the peppercorns in a mortar and leave to cool, then grind them as finely as possible. Whisk the regular soy sauce, light sauce and vinegar with the sugar, garlic and ginger. Add as much of the ground Sichuan peppercorns as you like, then whisk in the sesame oil. Add chilli oil to taste.

Put the chicken body breast side-up on a cutting board. Carefully slice off the breasts, cutting as close to the bone as possible. Slice each breast into 1cm-wide pieces then place them on a shallow serving dish.

Remove the wings from the carcass and separate them into drumette and middle joint before placing them on the serving dish.

Put the chicken legs skin-side down on the cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut the drumstick and thigh along the bone. Pull the bones from the meat, then cut the drumstick and thigh into 1cm-wide pieces and place on the serving dish.

Take a scrap of meat from the carcass, dip it in the sauce and taste; if needed, adjust the seasonings. Pour the sauce over the chicken in the serving dish. Cut the Chinese celery into 2cm pieces and arrange over the chicken. Sprinkle with sesame seeds then scatter the peanuts over the ingredients. Add fresh coriander leaves just before serving.

 

Poached chicken with spring onion dipping sauce
 

1 chicken, prepared as in the first recipe
8 spring onions
2-3 thin ginger slices, peeled
25 grams fine sea salt, or to taste
120ml peanut oil or corn oil
A little sesame oil

 

Finely mince the spring onions and ginger, then mix them with the salt and the peanut or corn oil. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little more oil. Stir in the sesame oil.

Cut the chicken - either on or off the bone - into neat pieces and serve with the sauce on the side.

 

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