For the Year of the Rabbit, Roast a Chicken with Soy and Whiskey

A refined version of a Chinatown classic.

Are you pleasant, affectionate, gentle, artistic, sophisticated and cautious, and think you have just so much in common with Francis Ford Coppola, Jet Li and Brad Pitt that it’s uncanny?

Then, you my friend, were born under the Year of the Rabbit, as were those celebs, according to Bay Area writer Rosemary Gong’s educational “Good Luck Life, The Essential Guide to Chinese American Celebrations and Culture” (Harper Paperbacks).

Those of us not lucky enough to be born under that fortuitious sign can still celebrate the start of the Lunar New Year on Feb. 3 in a glam way with this “Roast Chicken with Ginger and Soy-Whiskey Glaze.”

The recipe is from revered Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s “Simple to Spectacular” (Clarkson Potter).

A whole chicken is always a dramatic centerpiece, but even more so on Chinese New Year, because whole poultry is a symbol of health and unity of family.

The chicken is brined for an hour or two before cooking. A hefty 3/4 cup of chopped ginger gets stuffed into the cavity before the bird is trussed, then seared on all sides on the stovetop. Then, it’s brushed with a soy sauce-whiskey-ginger-garlic-sugar marinade before it goes into the oven, and every 10 minutes thereafter until it’s cooked through. The glaze lends the skin an inviting mahogany color.

This chicken is like a much more refined version of the soy sauce chickens you buy in Chinese delis. It’s very moist and juicy. And the flavor is more interesting and complex from the addition of the whiskey and ginger.

I served it alongside steamed white rice, baby bok choy, and wedges of kabocha squash that I had brushed with the same glaze, then roasted.

It makes for a most auspicious — and delectable — beginning to the Lunar New Year.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Roast Chicken with Ginger and Soy-Whiskey Glaze

(Serves 4)

1/2 cup kosher salt (or 1/4 cup regular salt), plus more to taste

1 1/4 cups sugar

One 3-pound chicken

1 cup roughly chopped ginger (don’t bother to peel)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rye, Scotch, or other whiskey

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/4 cup peanut or neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed

Combine the 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar in a large container with 4 cups cold water and stir to dissolve. Add chicken and soak for 1 to 2 hours at room temperature (if weather is hot, refrigerate), turning chicken in the brine, halfway through the time.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drain chicken and pat dry. Stuff about 3/4 cup of ginger into the chicken’s cavity, season the bird with salt and pepper, and truss it. Combine remaining ginger with soy sauce, whiskey, the remaining 1 cup sugar, and the garlic in a saucepan and bring to a boil; simmer while you brown the chicken, then strain.

Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet or roasting pan and turn heat to medium-high. When oil is hot, brown the chicken on both sides, coloring one leg and half the breast at a time; move chicken occasionally to prevent sticking, and regulate heat so skin browns but does not burn — it will take about 5 minutes per side. Put chicken on its back, baste it with soy mixture and put pan in the oven.

Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, basting every 10 minutes with soy glaze, until bird is dark brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into its thigh reads 155 degrees. Remove bird from oven, let rest for a couple of minutes, and carve; serve with pan juices.

Adapted from “Simple to Spectacular” by Jean-Georges Vongerichten

More Lunar New Year Eats: My Dad’s Foil-Wrapped Chicken

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