Friday, September 2, 2016

"White Cut" Cantonese Poached Chicken with Ginger-Scallion Oil (Bai Qie Ji)

This Cantonese/Southern Chinese dish is either ingeniously delicious in its simplicity, deliciously simple in it's ingenuity, or just plain ingeniously simple and delicious (I opt for the latter). It's essentially a poached wine, salt, sesame oil-rubbed whole chicken that's sliced or perhaps hacked is a better term (I'll explain later), and served with a ginger-scallion-oil dipping sauce. Yup. That's it. No more, no less. The typical way of serving this dish is to literally hack the whole poached chicken through the bone with a Chinese cleaver into serving-sized pieces. As a result, each piece will always include some of the bone and also a layer of skin on top. That's all well and good, but I've always found the oft-fragmented & sharp pieces of bone in the meat to be well, frankly, an unnecessary distraction from the awesomeness of this dish. So, what's a girl to do? IMPROVISE, of course! I'm not the first one to come up with this idea, but poaching boneless, skinless chicken breasts for this preparation seemed the perfect way to circumvent the hacked bone issue. Btw, sorry for repeatedly using the term "hack" or "hacked" here, but it's really the best way to describe what happens to this poulet poche. Poaching chicken breasts, however, is a tricky endeavor as they are so prone to overcooking at the turn of a dime. After perusing the web and, in particular, incorporating some of Grace Young's methods from her cookbook The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, I came up with this fail-proof way of poaching chicken breasts (cook them low and slow then shock them in an ice water bath to stop the cooking) that renders them super moist and tender. The ginger scallion oil is, in itself, simply divine and reminds me of the sauce that's traditionally served over Cantonese-style steamed fish. 

2 l-lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. rice wine

Ginger-Scallion Oil:
3 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
3 tbsp. finely chopped scallion
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

For the Poaching Liquid:
2 slices ginger
1 tbsp. rice wine
1 clove garlic, peeled & smashed
1 scallion, cut into 1" sections

1 tsp. sesame oil
Cilantro sprigs for garnish (optional)

1. Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a shallow casserole and sprinkle 2 tsp. kosher salt and 2 tbsp. rice wine over. Using your hands, lightly massage the chicken with the rice wine and salt until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 8 hours or up to overnight.

2. Fill a medium pot with about 2 quarts or 8 cups of water. Add all the ingredients for the poaching liquid (ginger, rice wine, garlic, and scallion). Bring to a boil.

3. In the meantime, make the ginger-scallion oil: place the grated ginger, finely diced scallions, and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt into a bowl. Heat 1/3 cup of vegetable oil in a small pan over medium high heat until the oil is very hot but not quite smoking. Pour the hot oil over the ginger-scallion mixture stir, and set aside.

4. When the poaching liquid has come to a boil, add the chicken breasts. Bring the water back up to a boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken breasts are just cooked through (stick a chopstick into the center of the meat and if the juices run clear, then it's done). Immediately remove the chicken breasts to an ice bath (bowl of water with lots of ice cubes) for about 1-2 minutes to stop the cooking. Remove the chicken breasts to a chopping board.

5. Slice the chicken breasts across the grain into 1/2" thick slices. Fan the slices across a serving platter, drizzle with some of the ginger-scallion oil, and serve the remaining ginger-scallion oil in a bowl on the side. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, if desired. The chicken slices are best served at room temperature.

Sprinkle the chicken breast with kosher salt and rice wine. Marinate for at least 8 hours in the frig.

Grate the ginger with what else but a ginger grater. Available in many Asian markets, online through Amazon, or at specialty stores like Sur La Table. 

Finely diced scallions

Heat 1/3 cup of vegetable oil in a small pan until very hot but not smoking.

Pour the hot oil over the ginger, scallion and salt mixture; stir and set aside.

When the poaching liquid comes to a boil, add the chicken breasts. 

Bring back up to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and poach for about 20 minutes or until the liquids run clear when a chopstick is inserted into the center of the chicken breast.

Immediately shock the chicken breasts in an ice bath for 1-2 minutes to stop the cooking.

Remove the chicken breasts to a chopping board. Rub with sesame oil and slice into 1/2" slices across the grain.

Plate the chicken slices and drizzle with some of the ginger-scallion oil.

Serve the remaining ginger-scallion oil on the side.

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