The Cantonese are masters of applying gentle cooking methods to create subtle yet complex flavors.  A great example is their famous “steamed fish with ginger and scallions”.  Another one is “white-cut chicken”.

The “white” in the name refers to the fact that the chicken is poached in a simple clear broth until just cooked, which results in extremely juicy and tender meat in their natural color and flavors.

The chicken is then plunged into ice water to stop cooking and crispen the skin, before being carved and plated.   It is served with a robust dipping sauce to further enhance the flavors.

Although the dish may appear simple, it requires close attention to the following details:

  1. Choice of chicken.  For this dish, you need high-quality chicken such as organic or free range chicken.  Spring chicken with tender meat would also be preferred.
  2. Control of temperature.  During cooking, you need to ensure the temperature of the cooking liquid is maintained around 180 °F (82 °C), just below simmering.  If you have a cooking thermometer, use it.  Otherwise, keep a close eye on the poaching liquid.  You want only occasional bubbles.  Reduce the heat if you see more than that.
  3. Dipping sauce.  You want a sauce to bring out the natural flavor of the chicken without overpowering it.  Traditionally, the sauce is made with soy sauce, ginger, scallions, and oil.  Other ingredients, such as minced garlic, cilantro, or sesame oil, can be added based on your preference.

I’ve tweaked the classic recipe by using chicken parts instead of whole chicken, to make it easier for those who’re trying the recipe for the first time.  Obviously, you get to choose your favorite parts!  I use chicken thighs in the recipe.  When you cook with the same type of meat of a chicken, it is easier to control the doneness without overcooking one part while undercooking another.

White-cut chicken

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

4 organic chicken thighs, about 1 lb (450 g)
1 bunch scallions, cut in half crosswise
1-in piece ginger, sliced
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Dipping sauce
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2-inch piece ginger, finely diced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 tablespoons poaching liquid
1 tablespoon chicken fat, lard, or vegetable oil
Pinch of sugar
Freshly ground white pepper

Procedure

  1. In a pot, add enough water that will completely cover the chicken pieces.  Bring to a boil.  Add the scallions, ginger, Shaoxing wine, and chicken pieces.  Bring to a gentle boil and reduce the heat to a bare simmer, with only occasional bubbles breaking the surface.  If you use a thermometer, maintain the temperature of the cooking liquid at around 180 °F (82 °C).  Poach until the meat is just cooked (when you poke the meat with a knife the juice comes out clear with no blood), about 15 minutes.
  2. Plunge the chicken pieces into ice water.  When cooled, remove them from the water, pat dry, and brush with sesame oil to prevent the skin from drying out.  Cut the thighs crosswise through the bone into 1-inch pieces.  Alternatively, you can first remove the bones before carving.
  3. Strain the poaching liquid and reserve 4 tablespoons for the dipping sauce.  The rest can be saved for another use.
  4. To make the sauce: in a sauce pan, heat the reserved poaching liquid, soy sauce and sugar.  When the liquid reaches a boil, add the ginger, scallions, oil, and pepper.  Stir and remove from the heat.
  5. Serve the chicken alongside the dipping sauce.
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