We were introduced to this dish while we lived in Chengdu, Sichuan. Dong quai is a Chinese root that is good for women. Suffice it to say, that what ginseng is supposed to do for men, dong quai is supposed to do for women. If you want to know more, The Soup Queen goes into far more (and personal) detail on the subject than I possibly could. I do not make this dish very often, only when my women are feeling ragged.
When you buy dong quai it comes as thin slices of the dried root. It should have a strong fragrance. If it does not, find a different source. I use 3-4 slices for a whole chicken, but you do not break it up when you use it. I lay the slices on top of the chicken and let the steam infuse the chicken and broth.
Many Chinese men will not eat this dish. Men can eat some of it, in the same way that a little ginseng will not harm a woman (unless she is really out of balance). One reason some people avoid eating this dish is that it simply smells bad if you do not need the tonic benefits of the dish. However, if you do need what it can do for you, it smells (so I am told) absolutely wonderful.
I will relate a story about dong quai comes from our time in Hong Kong. We were having a dinner party for about 16 people. Some of our guests were friends of friends whom we were meeting for the first time that evening. One woman was a reporter who had spent a month running around China in pursuit of a story. She had just gotten back to Hong Kong that day (this was before the “Change Over”) and she was exhausted and run down. She took one taste of the Steamed Dong Quai Chicken and she dragged it to her place and started eating directly out of the pot. When the other diners tried to get a taste of what she seemed to think was so good, she literally beat their hand away. She obviously really needed what this tonic soup could do for her.
This is one of those dishes that I had in Chengdu and reconstructed from the memory of the taste. You steam the chicken for hours until the meat is falling off the bones. I remember that it had ginger and broad beans and was finished off with pea top. Pea tops are the tender leaves at the ends of the pea plant. You may find them in many Chinese stores and California farmers’ markets as “pea shoot.” If you cannot find pea top, you can substitute pea sprout. These are the tops of the just sprouted peas. This is just what Myr needs for her soft food diet.
After Dinner Note: The girls really like this dish, the boys were kind of “eh,” but that is as it should be.
Karl’s Steamed Dong Quai Chicken
1 chicken, small whole
2 Tbs. soy sauce
½ tsp. salt
½ lb. dried Chinese broad beans (or lima beans)
3-4 slices dong quai
2 inch knob ginger root, sliced into coins
5 green onions, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 tsp. Sichuan pepper, ground
1 lb. pea tops (pea sprouts)
A 3½-4 inch deep casserole dish that fits into
A large pot with a lid
Tip: You will need to be able to reach into the large pot and remove the smaller casserole without spilling the contents or burning yourself.
1. Wash and pat dry the chicken. Remove most of the skin and any large lumps of fat. Rub inside and out with the soy sauce. Sprinkle lightly inside and out with salt.
2. Place the whole chicken into the casserole and scatter the broad beans evenly around the edges.
Tip: I use a 3 inch deep by 8½ inch round French casserole, which fits into my 10½ inch stock pot.
Note: Chinese broad beans are hard to get in the US. I have had to substitute lima beans, which are about half the size.
3. Lay dong quai, ginger slices and green onion on top of the chicken and sprinkle the Sichuan pepper over all.
4. Pour water into the large pot and place the casserole into the pot.
Tip: You do not want so much water in the pot that it bubbles up and gets into the casserole. You should also check the water level from time to time while the bird is steaming. You do not want the large pot to go dry and burn. Make sure that water remains in the gap between the pot and the casserole.
5. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 3-4 hours.
Note: You may notice that no liquid is being added to the casserole. As the bird is steamed the juices from the chicken will eventually fill the casserole with a rich broth.
6. Fifteen minutes before serving place the pea tops over the chicken and return the cover.
Tip: The large mass of pea top will seem too much for the dish, but it will wilt down a lot as it is steamed.
Note: If using pea sprout reduce the cooking time to 10 minutes. Pea sprouts are much more tender that the pea top.
7. Remove the casserole from the pot and place it on a dinner plate.
Tip: The bottom of the casserole will be covered with chicken fat. The reason this dish is not too fatty is that it self-de-fats. As the bird steams the broth level rides to the edge of the casserole. Much of the excess fat spills over the lip of the casserole and into the pot. However, this slippery fat is also what makes it difficult to remove the casserole without spilling.