Chinese steamed chicken (白切鸡/白斩鸡) is one of the simplest Cantonese recipes. It is incredibly delicious when it is appropriately prepared. It is also the dish to make for worshipping the ancestors along with Chinese roast pork during Chinese New year. This recipe is widely popular in Southern China, including Guangdong, Fujian, and Hong Kong.
Two methods to prepare the Chinese steamed chicken
The chicken can be prepared either by steaming or poaching. The first method is to marinate the whole chicken with salt and steam it, whereas the second method is to poach it at a sub-boiling point.
Steaming is the better way to preserve the flavor of the chicken as it will not lose to the poaching water.
On the other hand, poaching the chicken will yield more tender meat since it is cooked at the sub-boiling point.
This article will explain how to use the steaming method to prepare Chinese steamed chicken. Since both ways have merit, I also include the poaching method in this article. You can refer to the Hainanese chicken rice recipe on this blog if you want more information about poaching the chicken.
Why is it also called white cut chicken?
The Chinese steamed chicken is called ‘white cut chicken,’ a direct translation from the Chinese characters 白切鸡. The word 白 in Chinese means white, and 切 means to cut. This recipe is this way because it is prepared without adding any seasoning except salt to the chicken. The flavor of the chicken, therefore, stands out. For this reason, free ranch chicken is the best choice for this recipe.
1. Clean the chicken
- Once you get the chicken from the market, clean it under running water.
- Remove any internal organs (liver, gizzard, heart) in the chicken cavity. Then clean it until the water is clean when you pour it out from the cavity.
- Next, cut away the tips of the claws with a pair of scissors.
- Cut off the tail (butt) of a chicken, and remove the fat surrounding it.
- Fold the chicken feet and tuck them into the cavity.
- Tuck the chicken neck below one of the wings if the neck is attached.
From here, the method of preparation for both ways is slightly different.
2(a). How to steam the whole chicken
- Rub some coarse salt all over the surface and in the cavity of the chicken. Coarse salt helps to clean the chicken and remove the unwanted smell. Rinse off the coarse salt.
- Hang or place the chicken upright to drain the water away in the cavity.
- Now measure the required amount of fine salt and apply it to the chicken’s surface and cavity. Marinate the chicken overnight. The amount of salt needed depends on the weight of the chicken. I use 15g (1.5 tbsp) of salt for every kg of chicken. Wrap it with cling film and marinate in the refrigerator. I tested it before and confirmed there is not enough time for the salt to penetrate deep into the chicken thigh and breast if it is marinated for only a few hours. Therefore, I highly recommend marinating the chicken overnight.
- After marinating, apply some rice wine on the surface, plus a tablespoon inside the cavity.
- Insert the ginger slices, bashed garlic, and the green section of the green onions into the cavity.
- Set up a steaming station. Place the chicken on a large plate. Steam the chicken for 20 minutes over medium heat.
- Seal up the cover with a wet kitchen towel to minimize the steam from escaping if it is not tight enough.
- After 20 minutes, switch off the stove but do not remove the lid for another 15 to 25 minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the steaming station. Place the chicken upward to drain the gravy away in the cavity.
Note: The actual duration for this Chinese steamed chicken depends on the size of the chicken. After switching off the stove with a kitchen thermometer, you can test the doneness at the 15th minute. It is cooked when the temperature of the thickest part reaches 70°C/160°F. If you do not have a kitchen thermometer, pierce a chopstick or a toothpick into the chicken thigh. The chicken is cooked when no juice is stained with blood oozing out from the piercing hold.
2(b). How to poach the chicken
- Bring a pot of water that is enough to submerge the chicken. Bring it to a boil.
- Add the fresh ginger slices, bashed garlic, and the green section of the green onions, plus a tablespoon of rice wine and 2 tbsp of salt, into the water.
- Put the chicken into the boiling water.
- Steep the whole chicken into the hot water for about 10 seconds. Remove from water and repeat the process twice. The purpose of this step is to partially cook the skin so that the skin will not break during the poaching process.
- Transfer the chicken to a pot of cold water or rinse it under running water for 3 minutes to lower the temperature quickly. This step will contract the skin and make it adhere to the meat.
- Drain away the cold water in a chicken cavity. Then steep the chicken in boiling water for three times again.
- Immerse the chicken thoroughly in the water, cover it, and switch off the stove. Let the chicken poach in hot water for 20 to 30 minutes. The actual duration depends on the size of the chicken, just like the steaming method.
- After 20 minutes, open the lid and look at the chicken.
- Pierce a chopstick into the thickest part of the thigh. Press the thigh lightly and examine if any blood is oozing out from the thigh. The chicken is cooked if there isn’t any blood oozing out.
- Once cooked, remove the chicken from the poaching liquid by lifting it with two chopsticks placed it underneath both wings.
- Drip off as much liquid as possible and place it into a bowl.
- Let the chicken cool down completely before cutting it into pieces.
Note: You can use chicken thighs or chicken breast instead of the whole chicken. However, the skin of the chicken will shrink, which will not look nice after cooking.
3. How to prepare the ginger and green onions dipping sauce 薑蓉
Ginger and green onions sauce and the Chinese steamed chicken are a perfect pairing because the sauce does not have a strong flavor that will overpower the natural taste of the chicken.
The method to prepare the sauce is as below :
- Use a grater to grate the young ginger. Discard the fibery part of the grated ginger.
- Cut the white section of the green onions (scallions) into short sections, then coarsely chop them.
- Place the ginger and green onions in a stainless steel bowl (or any small bowl that is heat-resistant).
- Season the sauce with salt, sugar, and ground white pepper.
- Heat vegetable oil until near the smoking point. Pour the hot oil over the ginger and green onions. The amount should be just enough to combine the ingredients into a paste. Let it sizzles and cool at room temperature. It is now ready to serve.
4. Cut the chicken
Let the cooked chicken cool at room temperature completely before cutting it. The skin will detach from the meat if you attempt to cut it while it is still warm.
Useful tips for preparing the Chinese Steamed Chicken
Here is a summary of the essential tips to be a success in steaming the whole chicken.
- Marinate the chicken overnight.
- Use free-range chicken if available.
- Stuff enough ginger, garlic, and green onions into the chicken cavity for maximum flavor.
- Use rice wine or Shaoxing wind, or substitute with sherry.
- Cut the chicken only when it is at room temperature.
Chinese Steamed Chicken
Chinese steamed chicken (白切鸡/白斩鸡) is one of the simplest Cantonese recipes. You can taste the true flavor of the best quality chicken.
For the chicken
- 1.6kg chicken (one whole chicken)
- 3 cloves garlic, bashed
- 15g ginger, bashed
- 2 stalks of scallion, cut into sections
- 2 tbsps of rice wine
- 15 g fine salt
- Some coarse salt to clean the chicken
For the dipping sauce
- 2 tbsps of grated ginger
- 2 tbsps of chopped scallion
- 2 tbsps of cooking oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
For the chicken:
- Clean the chicken under running water.
- Remove any internal organs (liver, gizzard, heart) in the chicken cavity.
- Rub some coarse salt all over the surface and in the cavity of the chicken. Wash away the salt and drain.
- Apply the fine salt to the surface and the cavity of the chicken. Marinate the chicken overnight.
- Before steaming, apply some rice wine on the surface plus a tablespoon inside the cavity.
- Insert the ginger slices, bashed garlic, and the green section of the scallions into the cavity.
- Steam the chicken for 20 minutes over medium heat (lid-on). Switch off the stove, but do not remove the lid for another 15 to 25 minutes.
- Place the chicken upward to drain the gravy away in the cavity.
Cut and serve after the chicken is completely cold.
For the dipping sauce
- Place all the ingredients except the oil in a heat-resisting bowl.
- Heat two tablespoons of cooking oil until near smoking point. Pour the oil over the ginger and scallion. It is now ready to serve.
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ThermoPro TP03A Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer Kitchen Cooking Food Candy Thermometer for Oil Deep Fry BBQ Grill Smoker Thermometer
Rice Cooking Wine (Red) - 750ml (Pack of 1) by Shaohsing
Farberware 70043 Stack 'N' Steam 3-Qt. Covered Saucepot Insert Stainless Steel Steamer Set, 3-Quart
Aluminum Steamer Rack (fits 14 inch wok)
Serving Size:1/4 chicken
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1014Total Fat: 62gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 40gCholesterol: 396mgSodium: 2046mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 101g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 1/16/2020
Saturday 25th of June 2022
Hi Kwan, for the steamed chicken - can you recommend the right rice wine to use?
Wednesday 29th of June 2022
I do not use any specific brand in my cooking :)
Tan Ai Ning
Monday 31st of January 2022
Dear Kwan Thanks for sharing this lovely recipe. It turned out very well. Xin Nian Kuai Ler!
Tuesday 1st of February 2022
So glad to know the recipe is working. Happy Chinese New Year :)
Sunday 7th of February 2021
Hi KP Kwan, thank you for sharing. I am wondering if I can chop up the chicken beforehand instead of steaming the whole chicken.
Monday 8th of February 2021
Suggest to chop up to a quarter chicken if your pot is too small. Not recommended to cut into small chunks as too much flavor will be lost in the water.
Tuesday 1st of September 2020
Amazing website and Delicious recipes
Thursday 16th of January 2020
Thanks for a delicious and straightforward recipe. I'm looking forward to making it.
Friday 17th of January 2020
You are welcome. I hope you will love it.