By Linda Lau Anusasananan
For Cooking Newbie, a blog for beginner cooks
My Hakka Chinese grandmother, whom I called Popo, was adamant that chicken should not be overcooked. She insisted that the flesh have a smooth, slippery texture.
I adapted her cooking technique for whole chicken, likely borrowed from the Cantonese, to chicken breasts. Breasts are convenient and easy to cook, but tend to dry out when overcooked. Steeping ensures a moist texture, every time.
This Chinese method is super easy and practically foolproof. Just boil water, add chicken pieces, return to boil, cover pan and turn off the heat. The chicken cooks in the residual heat, gently steeping to a silky smoothness that Popo would have approved of. It's a forgiving technique – since there is no constant direct heat, the chicken remains moist even if it steeps slightly too long.
Steeped chicken is so versatile, you'll be using this method often. Serve the moist breast meat, sliced or shredded, in salads and sandwiches. Or dress shredded chicken with a lively fresh ginger-onion sauce and serve in lettuce leaves for an appetizer. Or mound on a bed of cabbage for a first course or light main dish, as in this recipe adapted from my book, The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World, published by University of California Press, 2012.
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Steeped Chicken with Fresh Ginger-Onion Sauce
Makes 3 or 4 servings as a main dish or 6 to 8 servings as a first course
6 thin slices fresh ginger, slightly crushed
2 boned and skinned chicken breast halves (12 ounces each), cut in half lengthwise
1/3 cup minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons minced green onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
Small whole lettuce leaves or shredded napa cabbage, iceberg lettuce, or romaine lettuce
Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
Thin slivers of red chile or bell pepper for garnish (optional)
- In a covered 5- to 6-quart pan over high heat, bring about 3 quarts water and ginger slices to a boil. Add the chicken; stir to separate pieces, return to a boil. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand, covered, until the chicken is no longer pink in center of thickest part (cut to test), 16 to 18 minutes. If still pink, return to the pan, cover and steep a few minutes longer. Lift out the chicken. Immerse in ice or cold water briefly to cool down quickly, then drain and let rest about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a 1 1/2- to 2-cup heatproof bowl, mix the minced ginger, green onion, and garlic. In a 6- to 8-inch frying pan over high heat, heat the oil until it ripples when the pan is tilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the hot oil over the ginger mixture (it will bubble vigorously) and mix well. Add salt to taste.
- With your hands tear the chicken with the grain into coarse shreds and place in a large bowl. Add the ginger-onion sauce and mix with chicken. Sprinkle with cilantro and chile, if using. Offer lettuce leaves alongside the chicken. To eat, spoon the chicken mixture into lettuce cups, roll up and eat. Or cover a shallow serving dish with a bed of shredded cabbage. Mound chicken mixture on top; garnish with cilantro and chile.
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