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.

Beggar's Chicken (Jiao Hua Ji)
Stuffed with pork and mushroom filling, this masterpiece of Chinese haute cuisine is encased in pastry and baked for a supremely succulent, flavorful bird.
Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 (4-lb.) chicken
  • 14 cup ng ka pay (Chinese sorghum spirits) or brandy
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken into 4 pieces
  • 2 whole star anise, crushed
  • 8 dried black mushrooms
  • 23 cup preserved mustard greens
  • 1 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 14 lb. fatback (cured pork fat), diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 red chile, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 12 tsp. five-spice powder
  • 14 lb. barbecued pork, thinly sliced and cut into 2" pieces (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. shaoxing (Chinese rice wine) or sherry
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 3 large dried lotus leaves
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 large pieces of parchment paper
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • 34 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. oyster sauce
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

Instructions

  1. Marinate the chicken: Rinse chicken, trim and discard any excess fat, then loosen skin with your fingers. Place ng ka pay, cinnamon, star anise, and a pinch each of salt and white pepper in a large bowl. Rub chicken with marinade both over and under skin, then place it in bowl, cover, and refrigerate 6 hours, or overnight.
  2. Make the stuffing: Place mushrooms in a bowl. Add hot water to cover and top with a plate. Set aside to soften for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse. Trim and discard stems, then coarsely chop caps. Wash preserved mustard greens thoroughly in cold water. Chop, then set aside with mushrooms for stuffing. Heat peanut oil in a wok over high heat. Add fatback and onions and cook, stirring, until fat is transparent, about 2 minutes. Stir in chile, five-spice powder, barbecued pork (if using), mushrooms, preserved mustard greens, and shaoxing. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, then add sesame oil. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt, and allow to cool completely.
  3. Make the crust: Preheat oven to 325°. Place lotus leaves in a large shallow bowl. Cover with hot water and set aside to soften for 20 minutes. Place flour in a bowl and stir in enough hot water, about 1 34 cups, so that mixture holds together. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Roll out into a large round about 14'' thick.
  4. Assemble and bake the chicken parcel: Remove chicken from marinade (discard marinade), fill cavities with mushroom stuffing, and close opening with bamboo skewers. Drain lotus leaves, then wrap them around chicken, tying them in place with kitchen string. Lay both pieces of parchment paper on a clean surface, allowing pieces to overlap slightly. Set chicken on top, then gather paper around chicken. Carefully place wrapped chicken, breast side down, in the center of rolled dough, completely enclose chicken in dough, and pinch edges closed. Place parcel, breast side down, in a roasting pan. Cook for 4 hours. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, make the sauce: Mix together cornstarch and stock in a small bowl. Heat a wok over high heat, add stock mixture, and stir in soy sauce and oyster sauce. Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens slightly, 1–2 minutes.
  6. To serve: Transfer chicken to a platter. At the table, break a hole in the crust, then carefully cut through parchment paper and lotus leaves with scissors. Pull meat from bones with chopsticks (discarding bones, crust, and wrappings) and arrange with stuffing on a second platter. Spoon sauce and cooking juices on top and serve.