Citizens, behold one of the greatest dishes in the Chinese recipe canon! 🙂 The chicken is stuffed, wrapped in clay, and then roasted. At first glance, the dish may look nasty and cheap, but don’t let it scare you away – a succulent and delicious treasure awaits inside that ugly shell!
Beggar’s Chicken originated in Jiangsu Province and belongs to Jiangsu and Zhejiang Cuisine.
Legend has it that during the Qing dynasty, a hungry beggar stole a chicken from a rural farm. The farmer caught wind of the crime and chased the beggar down to a riverbank.
To hide his loot, the beggar buried the chicken in mud. Later that evening, the beggar returned the river, lit twigs on fire and set the mud-soaked chicken directly on top of the flame.
The result? A tight clay crust formed over the chicken. When cracked open, the feathers fell right off to reveal aromatic, tender meat.
The Emperor, who happened to be passing through, stopped to dine with the beggar and declared this dish so delicious that it was added to the Imperial Court menu. And, rather than keep his new-found dish a secret, the beggar rose from poverty by selling Beggar’s Chicken to local villagers.
Citizens, this is by no means an easy recipe – yet I share my amped-up imperial version with you because I have faith in your cooking abilities and because TFD brooks zero compromise in his recipes!
What makes my version Imperial? First, I wrap the chicken in caul fat, a lacy fatty membrane that self-bastes the chicken as it is wrapped in the lotus leaves, which themselves impart an incredible fragrance to the bird as well as protecting it from the clay.
Then, it’s all in the stuffing, where I add in rare Chinese dried scallops, healing herbs plus a marinade of Chinese liquor flavored with rose petals and spices! Also, for the sauce, I use a chicken stock infusion of dried shiitakes and dried scallops instead of the simple plain water used by lesser recipes.
Lastly, I up the visual ante by painting the outside clay shell with a bold Imperial yellow symbol for China – 中国 (Zhōngguó)! If you choose to use the bread dough coating instead of clay, you can use yellow food coloring.
For all these reasons, I have replaced the standard name of Beggar’s Chicken (叫花童雞) for this recipe with “富贵雞” (literally “rich and noble chicken”) – a dish truly fit for serving before the Son of the Dragon!
Battle on – TheGeneralissimo
3 ¼ pound chicken
1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup minced fresh ginger
1 cup Chinese chili sauce with garlic (TFD prefers Fu Chi brand)
Sufficient Pig’s Caul Fat to wrap chicken – you can special order this from your butcher
5 large dried Lotus Leaves – 荷叶
1 tablespoon Sesame Oil (to be drizzled over the stuffing after chicken is cooked)
Cilantro Leaves for garnishing when serving, optional
Butcher’s twine for tying
Ingredients B (Marinade):
2 tablespoons Light Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing Cooking Wine (紹興料酒)
¼ cup Mei Kuei Lu Chiew (玫瑰露酒, méiguīlujiǔ, lit. “rose essence liquor”), a variety of Chinese spirit distilled with a special species of rose and crystal sugar. Alternatively, use Hendricks brand gin, which uses rose petals in its distilling process.
3 pieces eight-star anise
1 tablespoon cloves (whole spice not ground)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Pinch freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon ginger juice (extracted from grated fresh ginger – do not boil with the above)
Ingredients C (Stuffing):
50g Pork Belly (ask for the leanest belly or you can trim off the extra fat)
50g small Prawns, shelled and deveined
25g Yunan Ham, cut into julienne (use any salty but not strongly flavored deli ham, if Yunan Ham is not available)
8 medium Dried Shitake Mushrooms, reconstituted in ¾ cup hot chicken stock, rinse, squeezed dry and coarsely diced – reserve the soaking water for use with the dried scallops
¼ cup frozen cubed Carrots (or dice fresh carrot, parboiled first)
6 top-quality Chinese dried scallops (干贝) (optional but strongly recommended), soaked in hot mushroom soaking liquid until soft and then hand shredded – reserve soaking stock for sauce
2 teaspoon Ginger, grated or julienned very fine
2 tablespoons Scallion, chopped finely
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons Light Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing Cooking Wine (紹興酒) (if you can’t get this use dry Sherry)
½ teaspoon ground White Pepper
5 Chinese Red Dates (紅棗) pitted, sliced
2 teaspoons Goji Berries (枸杞子)
8 fresh (preferred) water chestnuts, rinsed thoroughly, peeled and quartered or use canned
½ cup preserved mustard greens (Mei Gan Cai) (霉乾菜) – washed 5 times to cleanse of sand salt, leaves opened and rinsed, squeezed dry and finely sliced
¼ cup rinsed and minced Sichuan preserved vegetable (榨菜)
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
10 pounds of Sculptor’s or potter’s earth clay – this is available in sculpture and pottery equipment and supply houses. It is *imperative* that you use earth clay and not a product called plasticine!
For the dough:
5 cups high-gluten flour
2 cups hot water
2 ½ teaspoons peanut oil
Yellow paint (if using clay) or yellow food coloring (if using dough) and a suitable brush to write with
For the sauce:
1 tsp. cornstarch
¾ cup mushroom scallop chicken stock
1 tsp. dark soy sauce (different than regular soy sauce!) – (蔭油)
1 tsp. oyster sauce
Brine the chicken: Mix brine ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken and cover. Refrigerate overnight. Rinse well and pat dry thoroughly, including the cavity.
Put all the ingredients B (except for the ginger juice) in a small saucepan and heat over low heat for about 5-10 minutes until the spices are infused into the liquid.
Let this marinade cool before adding the ginger juice. Pour over the patted dry-brined bird and into the cavity too. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.
Reconstitute the lotus leaves in hot water. When softened, rinse well to get rid of any residual mud and set aside.
Scald the pork belly in boiling hot water then cut into ½ inch cubes.
Clean, remove shells and devein the prawns, keep whole.
Heat peanut oil in wok until just beginning to smoke. Add the chopped ginger and scallion into the wok and stir-fry for about a minute. Add the pork and mushroom and stir-fry for about 3 minutes or until the meat is just about ¾ done.
Add the prawns and the rest of the Ingredients C and stir-fry until the meat is completely done. Place the stuffing in a bowl and let cool.
When the stuffing is cool enough to handle remove the chicken from the marinade and brush off the spices. Stuff the chicken and tie the legs together with butcher’s twine.
Tightly wrap the entire chicken in the cleaned and patted dry pig’s caul fat.
Place the chicken on a piece of lotus leaf breast side up. Fold the leaf over the sides and wings of the chicken onto the breast.
Fold the other sides of the leaf to cover the head and tail of the chicken. Flip the wrapped chicken over and place it on another lotus leaf and repeat the folding.
Flip the chicken again and wrap a third leaf around it. The chicken should now be completely covered. Tie the wrapped chicken tightly with butcher’s twine. Cover the entire package with a layer of clay about ¼ inch thick.
If using dough:
To prepare the dough, place the flour in the center of the work surface and make a well in the center. Add the hot water slowly with one hand as you mix with the other. When the water is absorbed, knead for about 2 minutes to make a dough.
Coat your hands with peanut oil and rub the dough with some pressure to coat it. Rub your hands on the work surface as well. Flatten the dough until it is large enough to wrap the chicken completely.
Now paint the outside clay shell with a bold Imperial yellow symbol for China – 中国 (Zhōngguó)! If you choose to use the bread dough coating instead of clay, you can use yellow food coloring instead. Add abstract designs on the clay or dough as you see fit
Bake in pre-heated oven at 200°C/400°F or in covered BBQ grill for about 2-2 ½ hours.
Meanwhile, make the sauce: Mix together cornstarch and stock in a small bowl. Heat a wok over high heat, add stock mixture, and stir in soy sauce and oyster sauce. Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens slightly, 1–2 minutes.
When ready to serve, dramatically crack the clay in front of your guests and unwrap the lotus leaves. Remove the stuffing and place in a serving dish. Drizzle the reserved 1 tablespoon sesame oil over the stuffing. Serve hot with sauce on the side and garnished with cilantro leaves.