[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
Soy sauce chicken is a classic Cantonese dish with legions of fans. Though it isn’t hard to cook, traditional recipes use ingredients like rock sugar, chenpi (a medicinal ingredient made from sun-dried tangerine peels), and Chinese rose wine that can be difficult to source in the US. Here, we take a shortcut with a quintessentially American beverage: Coca-Cola. The soda plays well with ginger, star anise, cinnamon, garlic, and white pepper, bringing sweetness, tang, and caramel notes to the soy-based sauce in which the chicken is cooked. Gently poaching the chicken guarantees tender, juicy meat, while an extended rest in the liquid coats the skin in a beautiful, even lacquer. Served over rice and garnished with scallions, it’s a relatively simple weeknight meal that delivers big flavor.
Why It Works
- Rubbing the chicken skin with salt, and brushing it with wine, flavors the chicken and results in a more uniform, appealing appearance in the final dish.
- Coca-Cola approximates flavors of hard-to-find ingredients—sun-dried tangerines and rock sugar—used in traditional soy sauce chicken.
- Toasting the whole spices improves their aroma and flavor.
- Gently poaching the chicken yields juicy, perfectly cooked meat.
- For the Chicken:
- One 3 1/2- to 4-pound (1.6 to 1.8kg) chicken, backbone removed and chicken cut in half lengthwise through breastbone
- 1 tablespoon (12g) kosher salt
- 1/4 cup (60ml) Chinese rose wine or Shaoxing wine, divided (see note)
- For the Poaching Liquid:
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil
- 1 large shallot (50g), thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- One 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 5 pieces whole star anise
- One 2-inch cinnamon stick, smashed
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 3 cups (710ml) Coca-Cola (two 12-ounce cans)
- 1 3/4 cups (420ml) dark soy sauce
- 1 cup (240ml) water
- 3/4 cup (175ml) honey
- 2 scallions, cut into 3-inch pieces and lightly smashed
- To Serve:
- Steamed white rice
- Sliced scallions
For the Chicken: Using clean hands, rub salt generously over chicken skin to remove any rough imperfections. Using a brush, brush 2 tablespoons (30ml) wine over surface of chicken. Set aside.
For the Poaching Liquid: In Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add shallot, garlic, ginger, star anise, and cinnamon and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in white pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Stir in Coca-Cola, soy sauce, water, honey, and scallions. Bring mixture to boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until bubbling subsides, about 15 minutes.
To Poach: Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) wine. Gently lower chicken in pot, breast-side up, and return to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover and carefully flip chicken breast-side down. Cover and simmer 10 minutes longer. Turn off heat and let chicken stand, covered, until thickest part of breast registers 150°F and legs register 165°F, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer chicken, breast-side-up, to serving platter, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Meanwhile, bring poaching liquid to simmer, and cook, uncovered, until slightly reduced and thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning with water or salt to taste. Ladle liquid over rested chicken to lacquer and fill in any light spots. Serve over steamed white rice, passing extra poaching liquid and sliced scallions at the table.
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