Dong quai steamed chicken 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 Chinese broad beans and was finished off with pea top. Pea tops are the tender leaves at the ends of the pea plant.
I thought about making one today, but I do not want the flavor of dong quai, a Chinese root that called “genseng for women.” Also, there were no pea tops, or even pea sprouts, at the farmer’s market or the Chinese store. Finally, Chinese broad beans are difficult to find in the US—half again the size of the largest lima bean you have ever seen.
I could still make a steamed chicken, but I would have to go with what I could find. I would use more ginger and marinate the bird in some shaoxing rice wine. I found some Chinese beans called “white beans” to substitute for the broad beans. Finally I chose some white baby bok choy, to take the place of the pea top.
Cautionary Note: I am always up for trying a new ingredient, but it is a good thing that I research the ingredient a bit before I use it. The “white beans” I had bought where not like any I had ever seen. They had an interesting stripe down one edge. Looking for them on Google Image I was finally able to identify them as hyacinth beans, or lablab. Reading further, I found that these beans are toxic. If they are not cooked with several changes of water, the cyanogenic glycosides they contain would stay in the pot. The glycosides convert to hydrogen cyanide when consumed. If I had used them as I intended—just throwing them into the pot with the chicken—I would have poisoned my family.
Time for an alternate plan. I searched through my pantry and found a hand full of the large lima beans I had used for my last steamed chicken. Problem solved.
To go with my steamed chicken I am serving roasted cauliflower and green beans and steamed rice.
After Dinner Note: While everyone loved this dish, the girls were disappointed that it was not a dong quai chicken. Apparently, they have all been feeling under the weather and in need of the feminine boost dong quai would provide them. I have agreed that, sometime this week, I will make them a dong quai chicken soup, but Chris and I may eat out that night. While I can tolerate dong quai, Chris finds even the smell revolting.
Karl’s Chinese Steamed Ginger Chicken
1 chicken, small whole
2 Tbs. shaoxing rice wine
2 Tbs. light soy sauce
1 Tbs. dark soy sauce
2 tsp. ginger, grated
½ tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. salt
½ lb. dried Chinese broad beans (or lima beans)
½ yellow onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
2 inch knob ginger root, sliced into coins
2 tsp. Sichuan pepper, ground, separate uses
½ lb. baby bok choy
5 green onions, cut into 2 inch pieces
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. I found that using two canning jar lifters (upside down so that the rubber handles gripped the casserole) worked quite well.
1. Wash and pat dry the chicken. Use your fingers to separate the skin from the breast and thighs. Remove any large lumps of fat. Rub the bird inside and out with some of the marinade. Place the bird in a gallon plastic bad and pour the remaining marinade under the skin.
Note: Always trim off the first joint of the wings. While in China, it is good luck to have the head of the fish pointing at you, it is bad luck to have the wing of the chicken pointing at you. Cutting off the tip prevents this from happening.
2. Seal the plastic bag tightly and marinate, refrigerated, for at least two hours.
3. Scatter the broad beans, chopped onion and garlic evenly over the bottom of the casserole.
Tip: I use a 3 inch deep by 8½ inch round French casserole, which fits into my 10½ inch stock pot.
4. Place the whole chicken on top of the beans and vegetables and put some of the ginger coins under the skin of the bird. Put more into the cavity of the bird and scatter any remaining coins onto and around the bird.
5. Pour any remaining marinade onto and into the bird and dust the bird well with half of the Sichuan pepper.
6. Put the casserole into the large pot and add water to the larger pot until it is about an inch below the lip of the casserole.
Tip: At the beginning of cooking the casserole starts out dry. You do not want so much water in the larger 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.
7. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 2-3 hours.
Note: You may notice that little 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.
8. Fifteen minutes before serving place the bok choy around the edges of the casserole and scatter the green onions over the chicken and sprinkle the remaining sichuan pepper over the vegetables. Return the cover to the pot and continue steaming for 15 minutes, until the bok choy is tender.
Tip: Cut the bases of the bok choy into quarters with a paring knife. You are not trying to separate the pieces, but it is easier to pull away small pieces of the bok choy if they are pre-cut.
9. 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 or burning yourself.
10. Serve with steamed rice on the side.
Note: Diners place as much rice in their bowls as they wish and pull the chicken and vegetables apart with their chopsticks. They may also spoon some of the broth over all.