Beggar’s Chicken

Boned Stuffed Chicken Baked in Clay

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


    as a Main Course.

Appears in

Chinese Technique

By Ken Hom

Published 1981

  • About

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.


  • 1 roasting chicken, 4½ to 5 pounds, boned


  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons thin soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger root
  • 2 tablespoons minced seal lion


  • 6 Chinese black mushrooms, soaked, squeezed dry, and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup tree ears, soaked, squeezed dry, and coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup preserved Sichuan vegetables, coarsely chopped
  • 6 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 scallions, coarsely chopped
  • ½ pound pork, coarsely ground or chopped
  • ¼ pound Smithfield ham, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon thin soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Fresh caul fat for wrapping
  • Clay pot, or 2 large lotus leaves, soaked (or aluminum foil), and 6 pounds moist ceramic clay


Boning, baking

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.

  1. Stuff the mixture into the chicken until it is plumped up to its original shape. The caul fat and clay will hold in the stuffing, so you need not skewer the chicken shut.

  2. Wrap the chicken in caul fat. This holds the stuffing in as well as imparts richness to the chicken.

  3. If you are using a clay pot, soak the pot in cold water according to manufacturer’s directions, drain it, and put the, chicken in it. Cover the pot and bake the chicken for 2 hours at 350 degrees.

  4. To make Beggar’s Chicken the authentic “Chinese way, first wrap the chicken in the soaked lotus leaf or aluminum foil.

  5. The chicken should be completely enclosed.

  6. Double-wrap with the second leaf or sheet of foil.

  7. Roll out half of the moist ceramic clay to a thickness of ½ inch.

  8. Lay it on a baking pan lined with aluminum foil. Set the lotus-wrapped chicken on the clay.

  9. Roll out the other half of the clay on a sheet of waxed paper. Cover the chicken with the clay. (The waxed paper should be on the outside so that it can be peeled off.)

  10. Bring up the edge of the bottom piece of clay and press it to the chicken.

  11. With wet hands, seal the clay all the way around. Press tightly to seal it well. Bake the chicken for 2 hours at 350 degrees.

  12. Transfer the baked chicken to a serving platter cushioned with a thick towel. Crack the clay with a mallet.

  13. Peel away the lotus leaves or foil.

  14. The peeled lotus leaves expose the tender, succulent chicken inside.

  15. Traditionally, everyone eats the chicken by picking bite-sized pieces with chopsticks.

  • The chicken should be boned and marinated the night before, then stuffed and baked just before serving.
  • Suggested Beverage: Pinot Noir or Burgundy