Scallion Oil-Poached Chicken

Classic poached chicken with a vibrant scallion-ginger sauce.
Classic poached chicken with a vibrant scallion-ginger sauce.

Betty Liu makes the rest of us look like slackers.

Not only is she a doctor training to be a surgeon in Boston, but she’s a home-cook so gifted that she created an award-winning food blog, bettysliu.com. Her writing, recipes and photos have appeared in Bon Appetit and Saveur magazines. She’s also taught food photography classes around the world.

On top of that, she debuted this year, the top-selling cookbook, My Shanghai: Recipes and Stories from a City on the Water” (HarperCollins), of which I received a review copy.

My, oh my.

It’s even more impressive when you realize that Liu didn’t even learn to cook until she was in college, and missing her mother’s cooking. Back then, whenever she visited her parents, she cajoled her mother into teaching her how to make her favorite dishes. After college, she worked in Shanghai for a spell, which only deepened her passion for that regional cuisine.

Her cookbook honors her heritage and her family’s cooking, spotlighting the Jiangnan region, which encompasses the lower Yangtzee area, including the city of Shanghai. Not surprisingly, Jiangnan cuisine is all about seasonal fresh ingredients and elevating the natural, pure flavors of the food.

This beautifully illustrated book is complete with lavish photos that bring this region of China to life, as well as useful images that take you step-by-step through specific techniques, including making “Suzhou-Style Mooncakes,” “Scallion Flower Buns,” and “Shanghai Big Wontons.”

Just from staring at the seductive photos, you can practically taste such dishes as a glistening “Rock Sugar Pork Hock,” homey “Shanghai Fried Thick Noodles,” and dramatic “Scallion-Roasted Fish.”

“Scallion Oil-Poached Chicken” called out to me because it’s very similar to Hainese chicken, one of my favorite Chinese comfort dishes.

A whole chicken is poached, then left to cook further in the residual heat of the pot. The recipe calls for a 2-pound chicken, which let’s face it is never easy to find in most American supermarkets. I ended up with a bruising 4-pounder, which worked fine, once I adjusted the poaching time. I actually used a meat thermometer that could be left in the chicken as it simmered to monitor its internal temperature on an external digital readout. I set it to notify me when it had reached 160 degrees. It worked like a charm, alerting me that my big chicken was nearing that internal temperature at 15 minutes. That’s when I turned off the heat, and let the chicken continue cooking for half an hour longer, as the recipe directed.

This method results in very tender and juicy chicken.
This method results in very tender and juicy chicken.

It’s far better to err on the side of a higher internal temperature, because you don’t want to find the chicken still raw inside. Because it’s submerged and cooking gently in the big pot of water, there’s little worry that the chicken will dry out, no matter if you cook it past 160 to 165 degrees.

Once it’s done, it gets the pro-athlete treatment — soaked in a vat of ice water to cool it down quickly.

Then, it’s sliced, and garnished with an aromatic scallion oil that’s made with some of the cooking broth, plus minced ginger. Most of you already know my fondness for ginger, so it’s no surprise that I took the liberty to increase the amount of fresh ginger from 2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons. If you’re a ginger lover, you will want to do the same.

You’ll have plenty of delicate-tasting, poaching liquid left over, so use some to cook some fluffy rice to accompany the chicken.

The chicken is served cold, making it especially welcoming when the weather is warm. Its flesh is incredibly moist, with a clear chicken taste. The ginger-scallion sauce is thin in body yet adds a perky brightness of which you can’t get enough.

Enjoy with some green veggies plus steamed rice cooked with the leftover chicken poaching broth.
Enjoy with some green veggies plus steamed rice cooked with the leftover chicken poaching broth.

Scallion Oil-Poached Chicken

(Serves 4 or more, depending on the size of the chicken used)

4 scallions

1 (2-pound) young chicken

3 slices fresh ginger

3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, for brushing

1 recipe Scallion Oil Sauce (below)

Separate the white and pale green parts of 2 scallions. Set the dark green parts aside. Julienne the white and pale green parts, then soak them in cold water until ready to use.

In a large stockpot, bring enough water to cover the chicken to a boil over high heat. Gently dunk the chicken in the boiling water, then lift it out, then duck it back again, two to three times. This step evens out the temperature throughout the whole chicken, allowing for more uniform cooking.

Place the chicken completely in the water and return the water to a boil. Add the remaining 2 scallions and the green parts of the others, the ginger, and the wine. Cover, reduce the heat to medium, and gently boil the chicken for 7 minutes (a larger chicken such as a 4-pounder will take about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and let sit with the lid on, undisturbed, for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare a large pot of ice water. Gently remove the chicken from its cooking liquid and place it in the ice water, reserving 1 cup of the chicken stock for the scallion oil sauce. (Note: You can reserve even more of the chicken stock to cook rice in to accompany the chicken.) Let the chicken sit in the cold water for 15 minutes, turning it periodically to ensure complete cooling. If the ice melts, add more to keep it cold. If you poke the chicken with chopsticks, it should release a transparent, colorless liquid, not a red one.

Drain the chilled chicken and pat dry. Brush the skin with sesame oil for extra fragrance. Cut the chicken into thick slices, then pour scallion oil sauce over it and garnish with the julienned scallions. Serve chilled.

Note: Don’t break down the whole chicken while warm, otherwise the meat will fall apart. Wait until it is completely cooled, then chop the chicken into slices. For a small chicken, about 2 1/2 pounds, the poaching time of 30 minutes is perfect. If the thermometer hasn’t reached 165 degrees, return the pot to a boil, then immediately remove from the heat, cover, and let it poach for another 15 minutes. If you don’t feel like making a whole chicken, use chicken legs instead. Simply decrease the boiling time to 3 minutes, and then poach for 25 minutes.

Scallion Oil Sauce

6 scallions

2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, to taste

2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons neutral cooking oil, such as canola or grapeseed oil

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns

1 cup chicken stock (reserved from the recipe above)

Slice the white parts of the scallions into 1-inch segments on a diagonal and set aside. Finely chop the green parts and toss them with the ginger and salt; place the mixture in a small saucepan and set aside.

Heat the cooking oil in a small saucepan over low, then add the white parts of the scallions and cook until they become golden yellow and fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the Sichuan peppercorns and stir for 30 seconds, then pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan with the green parts of the scallions. Pour the reserved stock into the saucepan and bring to a boil over high. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly before pouring over the chilled slices of chicken.

Adapted from “My Shanghai” by Betty Liu

Sides to Accompany This Chicken Dish: Jean’s Persian Cucumbers

And: Corn with Hoisin-Orange Butter Sauce

And: Eggplant in Garlic Sauce

And: Phoenix Tails in Sesame Sauce

And: Simmered Daikon with Hot Sesame Sauce

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