Of several legends concerning the origin of this recipe, the most common is that a beggar, having stolen a chicken and thinking he had eluded his pursuers, started to cook the chicken over a campfire by a river. When the chicken was half cooked, he heard his pursuers in the distance. In a panic, he buried the chicken in the mud. The pursuers arrived, but could not find the chicken and departed. The beggar retrieved the chicken, which by now was encased in mud, finished cooking it, and cracked it open—to discover an incredibly succulent meal.
Although it may seem complicated, Beggar’s Chicken is only a series of simple steps, most of which can be done well in advance. A boned chicken is marinated; stuffed with ground pork, water chestnuts, ham, and scallions; wrapped in lotus leaves and clay, then baked. The effect is stunning when the guest of honor cracks the clay to release the heady aroma. The lotus leaves are optional, if dramatic, and a clay pot can be used instead of wet clay.
Consult an art-supply store for a porous, quick-drying type of clay that can take intense heat. If you cannot find the special clay, take the precaution of wrapping aluminum foil around the chicken before applying the clay so that the juices will not moisten the clay and cause it to crack.
Marinate the boned chicken overnight. To make the stuffing, stir-fry the vegetables, pork, and ham in the 2 tablespoons of oil; add the rice wine, soy sauce, and sugar, and mix all the ingredients well.
© 1981 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.