Saturday, February 20, 2010

Onna's Cold Ginger Chicken

Chicken on the left simmered for 45 min. (well-done) Chicken on the right, 30 min. (pinkish and a bit underdone, the way most Chinese eat it)

My friend, Elsie, hosted a Chinese New Year's gathering last week which included a demo of four Chinese dishes by her housekeeper/cook Onna Liang. Onna is from Guandong with solid cooking cred. Her son cooks for and owns Aloha Barbecue on Kapahulu Ave. and her husband works at a restaurant as well. We were fascinated as we watched her whip up Cold Ginger Chicken, Eggplant and Tofu in Black Bean Sauce, Chao'd Pumpkin and Fried Rice for 20 people in under 2 hours.

The Cold Ginger Chicken is an ubiquitous dish on Chinese restaurant menus but Onna's was truly outstanding. I always knew that the restaurants must either have access to exceptional ingredients (super tender, fresh chicken from a farm?) or specialized techniques to make the chicken so meltingly tender and with so much flavor. Turns out it's the latter.

Use the HECO recipe(from the Hawaiian Electric Company's website) below but add these tips.

This is what we learned from Onna:
1.) Simmer the chicken (instead of turning off the heat) in 1/4 c. of Hawaiian salt, and a stockpot 2/3 full of water for 45 min. This Hot Brine plumps the chicken and flavors it perfectly.
2.) Whiz the ingredients in a Cuisinart until it is a fine puree. I'd always chopped it up fine but the puree is much better. Optional: Im sai, Chinese parsley and sesame seed oil for the sauce.
3.) Pour 1/4 c. of oil in a saucepan and heat the sauce on Med., stirring constantly for 2 min. before serving.
The chicken was delicious warm with the hot sauce.

These tips together produced the best Ginger Chicken I'd ever had from a home kitchen. It was indistinguishable from chicken from a good Chinese restaurant. I was very pleased at my first try at duplicating Onna's dish. However, still tinkering with the amount of Hawaiian salt because while I do want the advantages of what I call a Hot Brine, I also want a stock leftover that is not rendered inedible by the salt.

Cold Ginger Chicken
Demonstrated by: 2002 2nd Princess Sherri Seto
1 whole (3 to 5 lb) chicken fryer, Water, 1 cup cubed ginger root, 4 to 5 green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths, 3/4 cup salad oil, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon white pepper
Clean and trim excess fat from chicken. Fill a large stockpot 1/2 full of water; bring water to a boil. Add chicken and additional water, if necessary, to completely cover the chicken. Cover and bring water to a boil again. Turn off heat and let stand for 1 hour. Remove chicken from pot and drain. Cover chicken and refrigerate until chilled. Cut chicken into 2 x 1-inch pieces; place in serving dish. Combine ginger and green onions in a food processor; process until finely chopped. Add oil, salt, and pepper; chill. To serve, pour ginger mixture over chicken or serve ginger mixture in a separate bowl. Makes 4 to 6 servings.