Often seen in the windows of Chinatown restaurants, this poached soy sauce chicken is a beautiful and delicious sight.
By The Woks of Life
Soy Sauce Chicken or “See Yao Gai” is a quintessential Cantonese favorite, found hanging under heat lamps in many Chinatown restaurant windows. You’ll find it near the poached chickens, roast ducks, and roast pork. All have their merits, but a Soy Sauce Chicken done right is tough to beat.
It’s Judy’s favorite food to pick up when in Chinatown, and there is just something about the flavor of this chicken that makes it so satisfying and tasty each time we get it. These days, a 4 to 5 pound soy sauce chicken runs about 23 bucks, which is totally worth it, but also more reason to make it at home.
The cooking method for soy sauce chicken is similar to the one used in our Cantonese Poached Chicken w/ Ginger Scallion Oil (bai qie ji), recipe, but the similarities end there. Stewed soy sauce, aromatics and spices are the essence of this dish. After you make it once or twice, you can feel free to adjust the amounts of sauces and spices to your own taste. It took me a few tries to get the right ratio of ingredients!
We didn’t show it here but some folks like to have this chicken with Scallion Ginger oil from our Cantonese Poached Chicken recipe but personally, I like the purity of the stewed soy sauce for this chicken,
- 1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds (preferably free-range, never frozen)
- 2 teaspoons oil
- 7 slices ginger
- 2 scallions, cut into 3-inch pieces and smashed flat
- 3 whole star anise
- 1 ½ cups rose-flavored rice wine (mei kwei lu) or shaoxing wine
- 1 ½ cups soy sauce
- 1¼ cup dark soy sauce
- 1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 10 cups water
- Take your chicken out of the refrigerator an hour before you plan to cook. You'll want it at room temperature when it hits the pot. Remove the giblets, and thoroughly rinse the chicken inside and out.
- Grab your stock pot. It will ideally be a tall, narrow pot that will just fit the chicken, since it should be totally submerged in the cooking liquid (if you use a larger pot, you'll need to increase all the ingredients proportionally to create more cooking liquid). Put it over medium low heat, and add the oil and ginger.
- Let the ginger caramelize for about 30 seconds. Then add the scallions and cook another 30 seconds. Add the star anise and rice wine, and bring to a simmer to let the alcohol cook off. Add the soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, salt, and water. Bring to a simmer again and cook on low heat for another 20 minutes.
- Increase the heat to bring the liquid to a slow boil (i.e. a little stronger than a simmer, but not a rolling boil). Use a large roasting fork inserted into the chicken cavity to lower the chicken slowly into the pot breast side up. Make sure any air pockets in the cavity fill up completely with liquid. The chicken should be entirely submerged at this point.
- Once the chicken goes in, the cooking liquid will cool down. Let it cook for about 5 minutes at medium high heat. Next, use your large fork to carefully lift the chicken out of the water and empty the liquid inside the cavity, which will be cooler than the liquid surrounding the chicken. Lower the chicken back into the pot, making sure once again that there aren't any air pockets in the cavity. If the chicken is not completely submerged, periodically baste the exposed area with cooking liquid.
- Bring the liquid back up to a lazy simmer, which should take about 10 minutes. Keep it at this slow simmer (the liquid will be about 210 degrees F) for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the chicken sit in the pot for another 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. If you like, you can use a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh to confirm it's reached 165 degrees F.
- Use the sauce from the pot to occasionally baste the chicken and keep the skin moist as it cools. Serve over rice with some sauce from the pot!
The Woks of Life is a blog written by a family of four living between the U.S. & China. When not packing or unpacking suitcases, they're sharing their travels and culinary exploits--from traditional Chinese to modern dishes for the everyday cook. For all the generation X's and Y's out there who love the Chinese food their parents made, but have no idea how to make it, this family's got your back!