The reason that most of my recipes start with “Karl’s …” is so I can tell the ones I downloaded from the internet (usually for reference) from the ones I have changed enough to call my own. This is one of those occasions where I had a dish in my mind (a faded memory of some dish served at a Chinese banquet), but how it was made and what when into it was a mystery.
One search technique I used for this recipe was Google Images. Using the search “clay pot chicken” brought up hundreds of pictures that I could then scan for ones that “looked” like what was in my memory of that dish in China. However, the recipes I found on the internet did not come close to what I was looking for. I had to be creative. I took an ingredient from this recipe. Oyster sauce as the marinade base seemed a good choice, I was also making Ma po Dofu for this meal so I did not want to use Hoisin (another common marinade ingredient in clay pot chicken).
I took a technique from another recipe. One dish was very decorative with the vegetables arraigned on top and steamed in the pot for the last 15 minutes. Many of the recipes I found on the internet called for adding Chinese preserved sausage to this dish. If you have never had Chinese sausage, picture candied salami. They are extremely sweet and it is a taste that, even after years of living in China, we never acquired. I decided that I would use a leftover Chicken Apple Sausage to add interest.
What vegetables would I add to give some color, but would not be overcooked? Having lived in China, there is a reason that you will rarely find raw vegetables in Chinese cooking. With over a billion people to feed there is not enough chemical fertilizer to go around. Most peasant farmers use “night soil” as a fertilizer. Call it “recycling efficiency” with one little drawback. In America, we commonly eat raw Romaine lettuce leaves in our salads. In China, by the time the leaves would be cooked enough to be safe to eat they would be sludge. The Chinese still eat Romaine, but they let it grow until the stem is fully developed (1-2 inches thick and 8-12 inches long). They then discard the leaves and use the stem like a carrot. For this dish I finally choose Chinese Broccoli (Kai Lan) [my wife’s favorite], baby carrots, the white parts of the green onions (the green parts would go into the Ma Po Dofu), fresh oyster mushrooms and shitake mushrooms [Myr and Chris can’t get enough mushrooms].
For spices many internet recipes used white pepper and Hua Jiao (flower pepper or Sichuan pepper) is an obvious choice for me. You can tell if your Sichuan pepper is fresh by taking a single pepper corn between your teeth and biting. If you get a numbing sensation when the spice hits your tongue it is the good stuff (the other nickname for this pepper is “numb spice”). To be Sichuan, if you have Hua Jiao you have to add La Jiao (hot pepper or Sichuan red chili flakes). Hua Jiao’s numbing sensation counteracts the burning of the La Jiao and allows you to taste more than just HOT! While having a distinctive flavor of its own, Hua Jiao lets you taste the other spices in a dish.
I seem to be incapable of following a recipe, even one that I wrote myself. As I am cooking I adjust as I go along as the inspiration takes me, 6 onions is not enough make it ten. The leafy greens were too bulky to fit into the clay pot, blanch them lightly to reduce their volume. The fluid from the vegetables thinned out the sauce too much, baster out the fluid a second time before thickening the final sauce. Also the oyster mushrooms came out a bit limp, so next time I will pan sere them in a little peanut oil first. In the end, this dish is very little like what I had eaten in China, but this was the path I followed in creating it
Karl’s Clay Pot Oyster Chicken
1 Large chicken, cut into 10 pieces (see directions)
1 Chicken Apple Sausage, sliced crossways
6 dried shitake mushrooms
1-2 lb. Chinese Broccoli (Kai-lan)
½ cup baby carrots
10 green onions (white parts only, cut into 1-1 ½ inch pieces, See Note)
½ lb. fresh oyster mushrooms
1 tsp. peanut oil
½ cup Oyster sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
1 Tbs. Shaoxing
1 tsp. sesame oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, grated
1 Tbs. sugar
½ tsp. Hua Jiao (Sichuan pepper), crushed
½ tsp. La Jiao (Sichuan chili flakes)
¼ tsp. white pepper
3 Tbs. cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup water
1. Remove the chicken spine and wing tips with cooking sheers, reserve for stock along with any other trimmings and the giblets. Remove breast bone and separate the breasts. Remove the legs and, with a cleaver, chop the thigh bone above the joint, so that the two pieces have about the same amount of meat on them. Scrape away any lumps of fat and the large flaps of skin. From the breasts, remove the rib bones, most of the skin and any large lumps of fat. Cut each half breast into three equal pieces (wing with a piece of the breast, middle portion and the triangular tip). Marinate chicken pieces for at least three hours in refrigerator.
2. Soak clay pot in water for 15 minutes before cooking and preheat oven to 425° F.
3. Soak dried mushrooms for 15 minutes in 1 cup of boiling water. Squeeze mushrooms dry and set aside. Reserve ½ cup of the liquid.
4. Arrange chicken pieces in the clay pot. If you are using a round clay pot put the leg/thigh pieces on the outside and breast pieces in the middle. If using a rectangular pot arrange the leg/thigh pieces on the ends. Cover chicken with the rest of the marinade, add the reserve mushroom liquid and scatter the chicken sausage slices and shitake mushrooms over the top.
5. Bake chicken for 45 minutes at 425° F. While chicken is cooking, prep the vegetables.
6. Kai-lan (Chinese broccoli) has thick stems and broad leaves. Rinse carefully and separate the leaves from the stems. The leaves should be dark green and smooth, discard any leaves that have started wilt or that look “pebbly.” Stack and shred the leaves into ½ inch strips. Place the leaves into a large bowl of cool water and add 1 tbs. white vinegar (this refreshes the leaves and keeps them from going brown at the edges). Cut the stems into 1-1 ½ inch pieces and cut the larger pieces in half lengthwise so that they are close to the same size.
7. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and blanch the Kai-lan stems and carrots for 1 minute. Put the vegetables in ice water for a minute to stop them from over cooking (this is called shocking). Blanch the leafy greens separately for 30 seconds and shock.
8. Pan sear the oyster mushrooms in 1 tsp. peanut oil. Peanut oil can get hotter than vegetable oil is creates a better char (just make sure that none of your diners are allergic). Mix the seared mushrooms with the Kai-lan stems and carrots.
9. When the chicken has cooked for 45 minutes, remove it from the oven and open it carefully (hot steam!). Using a turkey baster, remove most of the braising fluid to a small pan. Arrange the vegetables artfully over the chicken. Put the leafy greens around the edges of the pot. Move the shitake mushrooms to the side and scatter the vegetable/mushrooms mix in the center of the pot. Return the shitakes evenly over the top of the vegtables. Cover the clay pot and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
10. While the vegetables are steaming, boil down the braising fluid to half of its original volume.
11. Remove clay pot from oven, and using the turkey baster, remove most of the braising fluid to the small pan a second time.
12. Let the clay pot rest open for 5 minutes while you thicken the sauce. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in only as much of the cornstarch slurry as you need to thicken the sauce. Return to a low heat and stir until the sauce has thickened.
13. Pour the sauce over the vegetables and chicken and serve in the clay pot with steamed rice on the side.
Note: For this meal I was using the green onion tops for Mo Po Dofu. If you are making this dish by itself use only 6 onions and chop the green tops fine and sprinkle over the finished dish as a garnish.