The spice is right
This is a dish from Hong Kong. It’s considered to be a Hakka recipe, but I’ve had it in restaurants where the Cantonese claim it as their own.
The chicken is seasoned half a day before it is steamed, which cures the meat slightly and makes it incredibly juicy and succulent once steamed.
This technique is one of my favourite ways to cook chicken and it can be quite easily customised to suit your taste. In this recipe, I’ve added five-spice to the salt rub. In the past, I’ve also used a combination of white, black and Sichuan pepper and half the zest each from a lemon and an orange. Another variation is to use salt with shredded ginger and spring onion.
The process of steaming is important. I recommend a high boil, to cook the chicken quickly and trap in the moisture.
I’ve taken a sauce recipe that is often served with boiled or steamed chicken – a simple concoction of spring onion and ginger. The sauce is an interesting technique, too. The important thing to note for the success of this sauce is to cut the aromatics as finely and evenly as possible, so they half cook as the hot oil is poured over them.
Steamed rice would be a satisfactory accompaniment to this dish, but I wanted to include fried rice because it is one of my favourite things to cook at the moment. I like to use a short-grain Japanese sushi rice. I like the texture that it retains, and the moist, almost sticky quality of the grains.
When making fried rice, it is always better if the rice is cooked the day before it is fried. The grains dry out a bit and start to break apart, which makes it easier to coat them individually in flavour in the wok.
If you don’t have a wok, don’t worry. I have a wok at home, but I usually end up cooking in a nonstick pan. In a domestic kitchen, even if the stove has a wok burner, I find it’s hard to get a wok hot enough to really work as intended.
While I am happy to make this domestic confession, I would advise against the temptation to add frozen school prawns or peas or corn. The beauty of this dish is its simplicity.
Steamed five-spice chicken and egg fried rice
– 1 corn-fed chicken, split in half lengthways
– 1 tbsp salt
– 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
– 1 cup short-grain rice
– 2 eggs
– 2 tsp vegetable oil
– 1 spring onion, sliced
– 2 tbsp light soy sauce
– ground white pepper
With a heavy cleaver, split the chicken in half lengthways, through the breastbone and spine. Alternatively, ask your butcher to do this for you.
Rub the salt and five-spice all over the chicken and wrap it tightly in cling wrap. Leave in the refrigerator for at least four hours, or overnight.
Fill a heavy-based saucepan with enough cold water to cover the rice and use your hand to swish the rice around. Pour out the water, which will be cloudy with starch. Repeat this step three to four more times, until the water being poured off is almost clear.
Pour the rice into a sieve and let the excess water drain away. Cook the rice in a rice cooker or transfer the rice back to the saucepan. Add one cup plus two tablespoons of cold water, put the lid on the pot and bring to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat to low and let the rice cook for about 10 more minutes, or until the water has been absorbed.
Spread the cooked rice on a tray and place in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to cook the chicken, unwrap it and place the halves skin-side up in a shallow dish that will fit into your steamer. Steam the chicken over a rolling boil for 30 minutes, or until just cooked through.
While the chicken is steaming, prepare the spring onion and ginger sauce and set aside.
When the chicken is ready, take it out of the steamer but keep it covered to stay warm.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and set aside. Retrieve the cooled rice from the fridge and have it at hand.
Place your wok over high heat. Add two teaspoons of vegetable oil and the sliced spring onion to the wok. Stir the spring onion around a bit then pour in the beaten egg. As the edges of the egg set, give the egg a quick stir and tip the rice into the wok. Toss the rice and egg together so that the rice is coated in a little of the uncooked egg. Continue to stir and toss the rice in the wok until the egg is cooked and the grains of rice are loose. Season the rice with the soy sauce and a little white pepper.
Cut the chicken into serving pieces and arrange over the fried rice. Serve the ginger and spring onion sauce alongside.
Ginger and spring onion sauce
– 2 tbsp very finely diced ginger
– 4 spring onions, very finely chopped
– 1 tsp salt
– 1/3 cup neutral-flavoured vegetable oil
The easiest way to dice the ginger is to peel it then slice it very finely on a mandolin. If you don’t have a mandolin, slice the peeled ginger as thinly as you can manage. Stack a few slices on top of each other and cut the stack into very thin sticks, then cut the sticks into a very fine dice.
Mix the ginger, spring onions and salt together in a heatproof bowl.
Heat the oil in a small saucepan until a slice of ginger sizzles on contact. Pour the hot oil over the spring onion and ginger in the bowl and give it a little stir. Leave to cool to room temperature.
2015 Meyer-Fonné Vieilles Vignes pinot blanc, Alsace, France ($30) – Leanne Altmann, wine buyer, Supernormal and Meatsmith
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 24, 2016 as "Steamed five-spice chicken and egg fried rice". Subscribe here.