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The Delicious Appreciations of Pick Yin

Not exactly predictable.
Has enough brains for codes
(but can be completely clueless on other more important matters).
Likes her Joe (and her man?) black, her chocolate dark and her food spicy.
“Quam bene vivas refert, non quam diu.” — Seneca

Total Posts   191      Last Updated   23 November 2015 12:00 PM (GMT +8)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hakka Salted Steamed Chicken (客家盐鸡)

With a blink of an eye Chap Goh Meh (元宵節) has arrived. Two weeks into Chinese New Year I'm down with a nasty flu and bad throat. Blah feeling aside, today is still auspicious and I think timely to share with you this dish my mother made when she came over to Singapore to spend the New Year with me. I know many Chinese are vegetarian today to observe Chor Yat Sap Em (初一 十五, vegetarian on the first and fifteenth day of each month) but you can always cook this tomorrow should I succeed to entice you with the sins of salt, wine and meat (I apologize in advance).

I don't relate much to my Hakka origin aside from occasionally having to speak the dialect when conversing with my aunts and many years ago with my late grandparents. My parents speak Mandarin between themselves and with me they use Cantonese. However, in the gourmet aspect, I'm very much aware that my mother has a few traditional Hakka dishes under her belt, her territory which my late father never dared to meddle with. Mum constantly made Hakka Char Yoke (客家炸肉, fried pork belly with fermented tofu), Tau Fu Song (fluffy fried tofu with salted fish, pork and fish paste) and this Ham Kai (salted steamed chicken). She didn't have a chance to pick up her favorite Kau Yoke (扣肉, slices of pork belly layered with sliced yams in between, served in sweet, dark soy sauce) before my grandmother passed away. Mum also enjoyed eating Lui Cha (擂茶, an extremely healthy tea infused rice with finely diced vegetarian sides) and Suen Pun Tze (算盘子, abacus-shaped tapioca and yam dough fried with mushroom, dried shrimp, preserved vegetable and pork) very much although she doesn't know how to cook these.

Hakka salted steamed chicken (客家盐鸡) is really a housewife version of the original Hakka Dung Gong Yim Guk Kai (東江鹽焗雞), which is baked covered in a heap of salt, a dish which is still served in many Hakka restaurants around Asia. At home, this method is rarely used as is requires so much salt and a long cooking time while equally good results can be achieved by just brining and steaming. I went through a lot of chicken and rice as a kid with this dish although I love the more typical Chinese chicken rice - which my parents rarely prepared as it requires much more work and I secretly think they actually preferred the Hakka version. Dad would get the freshest free-range chicken he could from his weekly marketing, get Mum to brine it and then he would do the cooking bit. He never did the whole thing himself, fearing he would mess up the seasoning. While my father was also a Hakka and a great cook, my mother definitely held the reins in the traditional dishes area.

Ridiculously easy to prepare, you start with a butterflied chicken - you can get your butcher to do it for you or if you feel particularly industrious, check out these very good instructions. Flavoring is more evenly dispersed around the chicken and cooking time can be reduced when the bird is butterflied. After that it's just a matter of giving it a good massage with some salt, oil and cooking wine. The steaming bit only takes half an hour, after which you let it relax and sit nicely for a good few hours, if you can help it. Be patient. Be very patient. For it is during this time that the juices in the bird settles and the meat absorbs all the flavor from the marinate.

Your kitchen (and flat, if you, like me, live in a box) will be filled with an incredibly inviting aroma but refrain from going at the chicken too early. Towards the end of the - possibly excruciating - waiting time, cook some rice and while it's resting in 'keep warm', cut up the chicken. The sauce from the chicken goodness and marinate will likely cause repeated visits your rice cooker for refills, no matter how hard you'd try to reason with yourself in your head to stop eating. Don't say I didn't warn you. The only way to avoid eating too much is to cook just enough rice for one serving. This, of course, didn't work with Vijay, who loved this dish tasting it for the first time ever. He ate my bowl of rice.

If you're curious about the parcel and baking dish business in these photos, we shot these when reheating our leftover half bird. Mum's instruction to reheat without watering down the dish was to bake (versus steam) covered with foil but I was inspired by one of Donna Hay's spring 2010 magazine issue featuring beautiful recipes cooked in parcels. Use good quality parchment paper and some kitchen twine, bundle up the bird into the oven at 200°C for half an hour and voila! The leftover meat was even more flavorful after days of 'marinating' in the fridge.

With this I debut (an albeit simplified) traditional Hakka dish and may just offer a few more in future. Happy Chap Goh Meh to those who celebrate!
Hakka Salted Steamed Chicken (客家盐鸡)
Serves 6 to 8

Note: My mother's recipe is incredibly simple, without ginger or scallions, which you can add during steaming for more flavor. For a halal version, replace the wine with a mixture of 2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons vinegar and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. If you cannot finish the entire chicken in one sitting, only portion what you need and keep the rest intact to keep the meat juicy while in storage.

  • 1 (1.8 to 2 kilograms) free range chicken, butterflied

  • about 2 tablespoons salt (I used Morton's kosher but you can use regular or sea salt, adjust to taste)

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil

  • 5 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine (紹興花雕酒, Shao Hsing Hua Diao Jiu)*

  • some sliced spring onions for garnish

Marinate the chicken: Pat dry the prepared and cleaned chicken with paper towels. Add the salt bit by bit around the chicken and rub it in by gently massaging the bird. Ensure to coat the whole chicken evenly and completely, including the folds and joints. Add in 4 tablespoons of the wine (or wine replacement mixture) and coat evenly. Rub in the cooking oil last and let the bird rest uncovered at room temperature for about an hour.

Steam the chicken: When ready to steam, prepare your steamer and bring the water to boil (I use a Chinese wok with a wire rack and cover). Meanwhile, place the chicken onto a large tapered dish (to collect juices), minus the liquid from the marinate. Evenly pour the leftover tablespoon of wine (or replacement mixture) on the chicken. Steam on low heat for 15 minutes (my chicken is around 1.8 kilos, if yours is bigger add another 5 minutes for each 200 grams). Off the heat and wait for another 15 minutes, all the while keeping the chicken covered in the steamer.

Remove from the steamer and at this point, you can choose to test a small slice of breast meat to adjust the salt if necessary, while the chicken is still hot. Let stand uncovered at room temperature for at least 4 hours, up to 6 hours.

Portion chicken and return the meat to a serving platter with the drippings from the steaming. Garnish with spring onions and serve warm with rice.

24 Comments on Hakka Salted Steamed Chicken (客家盐鸡)

Oh no! Hope you will get well soon! It seems like a common thing to be down with a sore throat after chinese new year! Anyway, thanks for this wonderful post! My mom who lives in Singapore loves steamed chicken, and I am certainly bookmarking this so that I can make it for her when I'm back in Singapore!

Posted by Anonymous Kayla @ Fitter Than Choc, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:20:00 PM  

how did you managed to slice the chicken up so nicely? I always struggle... lovely dish and I love luicha!

Posted by Anonymous penny aka jeroxie, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:20:00 PM  

Kayla: Happy Chinese New Year! Hope your mum will like it when you make it for her.

Penny: I... uhhhh... watched on You Tube how chefs cut it up. After a few chickens you get the hang of it. I like luicha also but not as much as my mother.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:20:00 PM  

Pick Yin like I said this looks great. I'm going to try this for sure! :)

Posted by Anonymous Kulsum @journeykitchen, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:21:00 PM  

Kulsum: Great, hope you will like it!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:21:00 PM  

I came over from pigpigscorner. And I see a wonderful salted chicken :D

Posted by Anonymous Min {Honest Vanilla}, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:23:00 PM  

Thanks Min, if you do try it I hope you'll like it.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:24:00 PM  

This looks delicious! Reminds me of my visit to Singapore last year. Wish I could ocme back and eat more!

Posted by Anonymous Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:24:00 PM  

Interesting looking dish and method of preparation. I will try this sometime.

Posted by Anonymous Three-Cookies, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:24:00 PM  

Bianca: Cook it yourself! It is so easy to make.

Three Cookies: Do try it, this is a very classical Chinese chicken dish if you like Asian food.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:25:00 PM  


I stopped by after reading your comment on Indian Simmer's food photography post. I have made a DIY lightbox to help me photograph food at night time that I thought might interest you. But, saying that, this pictures are amazing! You certainly don't seem to be struggling for light.

Posted by Anonymous sarah, simply cooked, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:26:00 PM  

Thanks for dropping by Sarah. I saw your DIY lightbox post before you commented here. :)

I rarely shoot at night. The only artificial light posts here for now are Best Cocoa Brownies, Roast Chicken with Lemon and Rosemary Roast Potatoes, Fried Chicken, Ginger Honey Chicken, Quiche Lorraine and Leftovers "Pizza".

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:27:00 PM  

brilliant way to lock in all those wonderful juices, compared to Hainanese Chicken cooked by white poaching method.

Hope you are feeling better now!

Posted by Anonymous Alan (travellingfoodies), at Feb 2, 2012, 4:28:00 PM  

Alan, feeling good now. The Hainanese way is good too, as long as the bird is rested well after poaching. Most people make a mistake of cutting into it immediately. I love the Hainanese version because of the chilli!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:28:00 PM  

This looks so good. I have always wanted to learn how to make this. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

Posted by Anonymous Ellie (Almost Bourdain), at Feb 2, 2012, 4:28:00 PM  

Thanks Ellie. I'm looking forward to your panna cotta with dragon fruit and fortune cookie recipe!

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:29:00 PM  

Pickyin, lovely write-up on your thoughts of Hakka dishes. I myself, though Cantonese in origin (specifically Toisan, which is famous for it puudzai gou and jindui), I thoroughly enjoy Hakka dishes. Among my faves, there are sooin poon ji, kao yoke, and lui cha.

Isn't it nice to have someone else finish off your cooking/bakes, too, besides having them all to yourself? LOL!

P.S. Not sure if I did send you thrice the same message by accident. Sorry if I did!

Posted by Anonymous Pei-Lin, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:29:00 PM  

I love puudzai gou! Am going to make it one day. It's one of my favorite breakfast when I was still living in KL. Don't worry about the comments, the pluggin is wonky at times but I'll sort that out soon.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:30:00 PM  

I love your site. I stumbled upon it by way of tastespotting. By the way, I'm also from a Hakka family! it's not so common to see someone blogged about Hakka dishes! Great work and great photo!

Posted by Anonymous Minneville, at Feb 2, 2012, 4:30:00 PM  

I think this is one of the best dishes in Chinese cuisine. I have to give your recipe a try. Thank you so much for posting.

Posted by Anonymous Judy, at Dec 15, 2014, 6:15:00 AM  

We love Salt Baked Chicken, it is my favorite. Our go to Hakka restaurant is Ton Kiang in San Francisco. I love the green garlic sauce. Do you have a recipe for that? I have tried and tried but it is not the same- sweet, garkicky, and hot.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous, at Feb 23, 2015, 1:52:00 AM  

Hi! Your recipe looks so amazing! I grew up eating loving this dish and boy am I happy to found your blog. I have a few questions: does this recipe work only with a whole bird? Or can I use thighs/legs only? Me and the boyfriend only likes dark meat. Also, can I use a bamboo dimsum steamer put inside a wok to steam the chicken? Or that wouldn't work as well as a normal metal steamer?

Thanks again for sharing this beautiful recipe!

Posted by Blogger anasbui, at Aug 14, 2015, 7:54:00 AM  

anasbui: Sorry for the late reply! Yes, you can roast the whole bird but adjust the time accordingly. If using bamboo steamer inside a wok, this works for half a chicken or chicken pieces.

Posted by Blogger PickYin, at Aug 17, 2015, 9:31:00 AM  

Are you sure 15 minutes in the steamer is enough? I tried following your recipe but my bird is bleeding and some part aren't cooked at all. I'll put it in the oven for a bit before serving but I feel it may need longer (and my chicken is 1.6Kg so I tried to follow your estimate). Thanks for posting the recipe tho, my family make that dish quite often and I wasn't sure how to make it.

Posted by Blogger Rémiz, at Apr 9, 2017, 12:30:00 PM  

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