Beggar's Chicken (Jiao Hua Ji)

Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, the author of seven books on Chinese cooking, stresses that the preparation of beggar's chicken, this masterpiece of Chinese haute cuisine, is as important to the appreciation of the dish as the finished product. Beggar's chicken is a disguised luxury: Its shell of lotus leaves, newspaper wrappings, and mud evokes a humble culinary history, but the dish has always been a fancy restaurant specialty and has been enjoyed as often by princes as by peasants. The stuffing may vary (the chef of Hong Kong's Mandarin Oriental Hotel uses nontraditional barbecued pork and hot chiles), and the crust may be altered (parchment and pastry in place of newspaper and mud, as in this recipe), but the respect given to details of preparation, Lo teaches, is essential.