Nicole Mones: Recipe for Beggar’s Chicken from Chef Alex Ong

Nicole Mones: Recipe for Beggar’s Chicken from Chef Alex Ong

Beggar’s Chicken photos © Susan Hwang, courtesy of Chef Mario Tolentino of Betelnut

© Owen Carey

One of the most famous Chinese dishes in the world, Beggar’s Chicken is also one of the more elusive.  Perhaps the traditional method of first marinating the bird, then wrapping it in lotus leaves, then sealing it in clay before baking it is too daunting, for not many restaurants actually offer it. One exception is Lou Wai Lou on the shores of West Lake in Hangzhou, China, where the dish has been made since 1848.  Another is Betelnut in San Francisco, where former chef/owner Alex Ong perfected a recipe for this classic as exciting as it is attainable in the home kitchen.

In my novel Night in Shanghai, when African-American pianist Thomas Greene is recruited n 1936 to lead a jazz orchestra in Shanghai, he goes from being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion, with servants of his own. He is the toast of a city obsessed with pleasure, power, and money, and lives a life of luxury until World War II tears Shanghai apart. This showstopper–a whole chicken marinated, stuffed, wrapped in lotus leaves and baked in clay–is exactly the kind of extravagant banquet dish popular during Shanghai’s golden, jazz-soaked era, before the city fell to Japan.

Nicole Mones’s Website

Nicole Mones’s Blog:
Jazz, War, and the Holocaust Collide in 1930s China

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Prep Time: 8 hours
Cook Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Total Time: 10 hours
Yield: 1-2 servings

Wrapped in a lotus leaf and baked in clay, this moist, succulent chicken with mushroom stuffing is an elegant complement to Nicole Mones’s NIGHT IN SHANGHAI.

Ingredients

1 (2¼-pound) chicken
1-2 dried lotus leaves (see note)
5 pounds non-toxic potter’s clay (optional, see note)

*For the brine:*
1 gallon water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup minced fresh ginger
1 cup Asian chili sauce

*For the marinade:*
1 teaspoon five spice powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
3 teaspoons soy sauce, such as Kikkoman
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce or dark soy sauce

*For the stuffing:*
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
10 oyster mushrooms
10 black trumpet mushrooms
1 cup wood ear fungus (see note)
1 cup green beans, cut into one-inch pieces
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (see note)
2 tablespoons soy sauce, such as Kikkoman
2 tablespoons oyster sauce

*For the sauce (optional):*
1 tablespoon corn starch
3 tablespoons soy sauce, such as Kikkoman
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
6 tablespoons chicken stock

Instructions

  1. *Brine the chicken:* Mix brine ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken and cover. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. Soak a lotus leaf in cold water until pliable, about one hour.
  3. *Make the marinade:* Mix all ingredients and rub the marinade inside and outside the chicken.
  4. *Make the stuffing:* Preheat a wok or sauté pan over high heat. Add oil and then ginger. Follow with mushrooms and green beans. Stir-fry about 3-4 minutes, then add wine, soy and oyster sauce. Remove to a plate and allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  6. *Assemble the chicken:* Stuff the chicken, tie the legs, and tuck the wings. Pour some of the juices from the stuffing mixture into the cavity. Lay lotus leaf on table. Place chicken on leaf breast side up, wrap and tie.
  7. Roll clay into a 15 x 18-inch rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Place the wrapped chicken on one end of the clay, fold the other end over, and seal edges, making sure to repair and seal any holes in the clay. This is important to hold in juice and steam. Brush some oil on a baking tray and place sealed chicken on top. Bake for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours.
  8. *Make the sauce (optional):* In a small bowl, combine cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water. Stir until a smooth paste forms. Combine soy and oyster sauce, sesame oil, and chicken stock in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then add the cornstarch mixture and whisk until mixture thickens. Remove from heat.
  9. Remove chicken from oven and allow chicken to rest for 15 minutes. Cover with a clean dishcloth and use a kitchen mallet to pound firmly three or four times, until the clay cracks. Remove clay and unwrap chicken. Plate and present at the table with the sauce, if using.

Notes

Look for lotus leaves, Shaoxing rice wine, and wood ear fungus at Asian grocers or online. You can substitute good-quality dry sherry (not cooking sherry) for the Shaoxing rice wine.