For many Chinese households, Chinese poached chicken (pak cham kai or white cut chicken) is a must-have dish during the Chinese New Year and festivities. Eaten together with a ginger dipping oil, it is an absolutely delectable dish loved by many.
During the CNY, this poached chicken is traditionally served whole with the head and feet intact as it symbolizes family togetherness, completeness and unity. But if you’re cooking this for other times, you may leave them out if you wish.
Pak Cham Kai
I’ve always known this dish as pak cham kai or pak chit kai. While writing this post, I found out that it is also known as ‘White cut chicken’ – a literal translation of the Cantonese name and a boring name, if you ask me. But this dish is anything but boring. The first time I tried cooking this dish at home, I was amazed that even chicken breast, which is usually dry and flavorless can be so moist and delicious poached.
1. For best results, use fresh chicken and preferably free range. The quality of the chicken will shine through particularly in a dish such as this. I used a kampung chicken for this recipe so the bird was rather small. But it was just nice to feed my family of 5. Feel free to use any type of free range or organic chicken.
2. Add the chicken into the water only after it has come to a boil. If it is added in the beginning when the water is still cold, the chances of overcooking the chicken is high.
3. Heat control. Do not boil the chicken or it will be overcooked. Instead, simmer on low heat.
4. Timing. The poaching time needs to be just right for the chicken to be cooked without losing its moistness. Adjust the poaching time according to the size of the chicken.
Ginger and Spring Onion Oil Dipping Sauce
I’m not sure which exactly is the star of this dish. The tender and moist chicken or the appetizing and irresistible ginger spring onion dipping oil. They’re like yin and yang. You can’t have one without the other. They complement each other perfectly.
This is a sauce where each cook will make to suit his/her preference. There are various versions of this dipping sauce. I’ve seen recipes adding bird’s eye chili, garlic and/or scallions. Feel free to experiment. The most basic ingredients would be ginger, spring onions, salt and oil. I personally like the addition of some finely chopped cilantro and light soy sauce.
Speaking of light soy sauce, I currently use Angel brand light soy sauce and it’s simply delicious! It’s great for dipping, seasoning and cooking and I love the aroma and flavor and it is MSG free.
For the ginger, you can either mince it finely or grate it with a microplane grater. To save time, I chopped the ginger with my blender which comes with a mill. Don’t chop the ginger too finely if you prefer it to have more bite.
This sauce keeps well in the fridge so make a bigger batch if you wish. It can be refrigerated for up to a week.
Please pardon my atrocious chicken cutting skills. It is something I’ll have to work on. Some of the skin came off so I had to place the skinless pieces strategically below the better looking ones. ^_^
When eating a chicken, I usually go for the thighs, wings and any meat-on-the-bone parts where tenderness reigns supreme, graciously leaving the
dry and chewy breast meat to the others. But for this poached chicken, if the breast meat is also tender, you know you’ve done it right. 🙂
- 1 whole chicken - about 900 g (preferably free range chicken)
- 10 g ginger - cut into 4 or 5 slices
- 4 stalks spring onion - tied into a knot
- 5 L water (or enough to cover the chicken by an inch)
- 1 tsp sesame oil (use more if required)
- ¼ cup peanut or vegetable oil
- 60 g ginger - grated or chopped finely
- 20 g spring onions - finely chopped
- 15 g coriander - finely chopped
- ½ tbsp light soy sauce (or to taste)
- ¼ tsp salt
- Spring onions
- Big stock pot
- Small saucepan
- Kitchen scissors
- Kitchen timer
- Prep chicken. Bring water to a boil in a big and deep pot. While waiting for the boil to heat up, clean the chicken. Remove all innards from the chicken's cavity. Snip off the feet, head, buttocks and extra fat with a pair of kitchen scissors and pull out any stray feathers. Rinse thoroughly. Stuff the chicken's cavity with ginger and spring onion.
- Simmer. Once the water boils, carefully lower the chicken (neck down if cavity is stuffed with aromatics) into the water and blanch 3 times. Then submerge the chicken into the pot and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
- Poach. Turn off heat and let the chicken gently poach in the stock for about 20 minutes undisturbed. (See note) When the poaching time is up, use a chopstick and poke it into the thickest part of the chicken. If the liquid that comes out is clear, the chicken is done. If not, poach for a few more minutes. Another way to check is if it registers 75°C on an instant-read thermometer on the thickest part of the chicken. I usually lift up the chicken a few minutes after it floats up.
- Cool. Carefully remove the chicken from the pot and empty the cavity. Prepare an ice bath and submerge the chicken inside for a few minutes to stop the cooking process completely. Remove and brush sesame oil all over the chicken. Set aside.
- Prepare dipping sauce. Mix grated ginger, chopped spring onions, coriander and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Heat up oil in a saucepan till it is almost smoking. Turn off heat. Pour the hot oil onto the sauce ingredients. You will hear a sizzling sound. Add light soy sauce to taste.
- Chop and plate up. When ready to serve, chop the cooled chicken into pieces and arrange on a serving plate. Garnish with some spring onions and/or coriander. Serve with the dipping sauce.