White-Cut Chicken

White-Cooked Chicken

Slow-steeping in water flavored only with ginger and scallion produces a chicken of incomparably delicate flavor. The gentle heat makes the chicken retain its moisture, and one last step ensures that the chicken will remain juicy—the cooked chicken is plunged into ice water to firm the flesh and trap the juices. For maximum juiciness, the Chinese prefer chicken with the bones still red and the flesh satiny. This simple dish is usually served cold or at room temperature with a dipping sauce, soy sauce, or oyster sauce. This makes it an easy first course, served perhaps on a bed of watercress, or, for summer dining, a light main course. It can be prepared a day ahead and cut up at the last minute. The water in which the chicken cooks can be saved and added to stock. White-Cut Chicken can be used in chicken salad, chicken in aspic, or as a substitute for cold poached chicken. As a variation, instead of scallions and ginger, flavor the water with sliced carrots, yellow onions, celery, parsley, bay leaf, and thyme.

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Ingredients

  • 1 roasting chicken, 4 to 4½ pounds (see note)
  • 2 whole scallions
  • 2 slices fresh ginger root
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 quarts water, approximately
  • 3 trays ice cubes

Method

Steeping

  1. Tuck the feet into the cavity to make a more compact package.

  2. Add the scallions, ginger and salt to a pot containing enough water to cover the chicken.

  3. Place the chicken in the pot. If the water level is too low, add more.

  4. Bring the water to a simmer. As the water heats, skim off the scum that rises to the surface. When the scum is gone (about 10 minutes), cover the chicken and let it simmer gently for a total of 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it steep, still covered, 40 minutes longer. (Steep 15 minutes longer if you want the bones to lose their red color and the chicken to be more well done.)

  5. Fill a large bowl with equal parts ice cubes and water. Lift the chicken from the pot with a large strainer and plunge it into the ice water.

  6. This forces the juices to retract into the chicken meat, making it extremely juicy.

  7. Turn the chicken in the ice water to chill it thoroughly. Then pat it dry with paper towels and wrap it in plastic wrap. Keep it refrigerated until time to serve it, or at room temperature up to 1 hour.

Cutting a Chicken into Pieces

White-Cut Chicken is cooked whole to maintain its juiciness; just before serving, cut it into bite-sized pieces. This is a popular way to do that.

  1. Cut off the neck with a cleaver.

  2. Cut the wings off at the body. Set them aside.

  3. Cut the feet off at the drumstick. Set them aside.

  4. Cut around the skin at the thigh joint. Pull it back with your hand to expose the thigh joint, and sever it from the carcass with the cleaver.

  5. Holding the carcass by the backbone, cut through the series of joints attaching the ribs to the back, separating the back from the breast. Chop the back crosswise into three pieces. Arrange the pieces in a line on a serving plate.

  6. Position the cleaver over the keel bone, which runs down the center of the breast. Hit the back of the cleaver with your free hand to drive it through the breast, splitting it in two.

  7. Cut each breast half crosswise into about six pieces 1 inch thick.

  8. Arrange the pieces on the plate, reassembling them as neatly as you can.

  9. To cut up the wing, first cut crosswise just above the joint, leaving a V-shaped piece.

  10. Trim off the wing tip, but keep the parts together so that they look like a whole wing when you put them on the plate.

  11. Do the same with the thigh quarter, first cutting crosswise just above the joint, leaving a V-shaped piece. Then cut through the rest of the pieces with one or two whacks of the cleaver.

  12. Prepare a dipping sauce and serve it with the cold chicken arranged neatly on a plate.

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