Master-Stock Chicken

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This is, in essence, a very simple recipe. You boil all the ingredients in water, add the chicken, poach, and then allow it to cool in the stock with the lid on; this gives the chicken the most succulent flesh and a skin permeated with the flavour of your stock. The reason it’s so tender is that you are slow cooking it at the end.

It’s called ‘master stock’ because you keep the stock and use it time and time again, adding more water and flavouring each time. After a while the stock has an incredible intensity of flavour and colour, and your birds will come out a beautiful browny red. Some master stocks in China are rumoured to be centuries old.

At the restaurant we have separate master stocks for chicken, pigeon, duck and pork. We keep them all separately and they are used every day; the mothers are many years old. You can do the same at home by straining the stock into a container and freezing it after every use — you can keep it for years.

A great way to mature a master stock is to buy some bones, in this case chicken bones, and boil them in the stock for 20 minutes. Strain and repeat three or four times, adding more water and seasoning each time. This way the first time you use your stock to cook a chicken, it will lend great colour and flavour — otherwise your first bird might look a bit insipid. You can also use a bit of the stock to moisten the chicken as it makes a great sauce. A variation of this dish is called soy chicken.

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Ingredients

  • 1 × 1.6 kg (3 lb 8 oz) free-range or organic chicken
  • 1 spring onion (scallion), white part only, finely sliced in julienne
  • freshly ground white pepper

Master Stock

  • 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) light soy sauce
  • 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) shaoxing
  • 125 g ( oz) yellow rock sugar, crushed
  • ½ bunch spring onions (scallions), dark green ends only
  • 1 large knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 pieces dried tangerine peel

Method

Remove all visible fat from the chicken and wipe the cavity clean. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, plunge the chicken in for 1 minute, then remove and rinse under cold running water and pat dry with paper towel.

Rinse the pot and add the master stock ingredients and 2.5 litres (10 cups) cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Submerge the chicken in the stock and allow it to return to the boil. Reduce the heat to a high simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and simmer for a further 3 minutes. Put a lid on the pot, remove from the heat and leave the chicken to cool in the stock. Once the stock has cooled, remove the chicken and drain the stock from the cavity.

Cut the chicken Chinese-style and arrange on a serving plate. Strain the master stock through a fine sieve and discard the aromatics. Simmer 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) of the stock in a small pot to reduce by half. Pour the reduced stock over the chicken, sprinkle with spring onion and give it a good grind of white pepper to serve.

Bring the remaining stock back to the boil in a pot and pour it into an airtight container, cool and then freeze, ready for the next time. Just take the stock out next time around, place it in a pot, top it up with water and more of the seasoning ingredients and simmer... and you’re on your way to being a master-stocker.

Variations

To make the perfect crispy-skin chicken, dry the master-stock chicken of all moisture (otherwise you’ll have an exploding chicken when it hits the hot oil) and deep-fry it; serve with lemon or lime wedges and a small bowl of Sichuan salt and pepper — squeeze the lemon or lime over the top and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.

You can master stock a 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) duck by boiling it first, breast-side-down, for 35 minutes, turning it and simmering for a further 5 minutes, then covering and allowing it to cool in the stock. Again, this is great cut and sauced, or dried, floured and deep-fried for the perfect crispy duck.

For a very simple dish, boil 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) of chicken wings in the stock, for 20 minutes, cover and allow to cool. I promise you a plate of those won’t last long.