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.