Wednesday, 6 February 2008
Fusion Beggar's Chicken
I somehow find that food that has a story to it not only makes it seem more interesting but it always seems to taste better too! Beggar's Chicken is a dish that is steeped in legend. I've got no idea if it is true or false but it makes for an interesting story if nothing else. It's also a rather spectacular dish to serve for a dinner party. It doesn't really look spectacular but it's special because of the way it is served and presented. You'll understand what I mean as you read on.
Legend has it that a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Oh Sorry. That's Star Wars. Let's try again. A long time ago in China, there was a beggar who was desperately hungry. He passed by a farm and stole a chicken. As he had no cooking pots or utensils, he wrapped the bird in lotus leaves. He then wrapped the package with mud and clay. By this stage the farm guards had been notified of the theft and were alerted by the nearby smoke from the open fire - a sure sign that someone was cooking the bird. The ingenious beggar buried the chicken in the earth under the fire. When the guards appeared, the beggar claimed innocence and with no chicken as evidence, they let the beggar go free.
When the coast was clear, the beggar unearthed the package and cracked open the hardened clay. To his delight, he was rewarded with a delectably tender chicken that, after hours of stewing inside the lotus leaves, was incredibly tasty.
I've tasted this dish many times at Chinese Restaurants and although I've always been fascinated with this dish, I've never quite liked how 'herby' the dish tastes. I also never thought that it was something that could be replicated at home.
I did some research on the web and found that instead of using clay, you could use a dough to simulate clay. I also learnt that some recipes advocate using parchment paper in the absence of lotus leaves. In retrospect, I would use Aluminium Foil
I decided to try to make Beggar's Chicken. This recipe is loosely based on various methods found on the web and with my own flavours.
My version is more of a Fusion Chicken as I stuffed my chicken with sausages, chopped apples, rosemary and red dates. The chicken itself is seasoned with a mixture of sesame oil, ground ginger, soy sauce and five spice powder.
This is my recipe with hindsight added!
1 large chicken (about 1.5kg)
2 tsps turmeric
1 inch ginger - pounded
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp soya sauce
1/2 tsp 5 spice powder
4 sausages - sliced in rounds
1 large green apple - diced
5-6 dried red dates - cut in large pieces
2 tsp rosemary
Lotus Leaf (to wrap the chicken)
Aluminium Foil (to wrap the chicken too)
For the Dough
1kg plain flour
3-4 cups Water
Wash the chicken and then rub all over with turmeric before rinsing again. The turmeric helps to clean the chicken nicely. Mix together the oil, soy sauce, 5 spice powder and ginger. Spread this 'paste' liberally all over the chicken. Leave to rest for about half an hour.
Meanwhile, soak the red dates in hot water to rehydrate them. Lightly fry the sausages with rosemary and season with a little salt and pepper. Mix in the apples and dates and then stuff into the chicken. Close the cavity with some toothpicks.
If using Lotus Leaf, this is when you would wrap the chicken. Then cover the lotus leaf with Aluminium Foil, making sure it is properly sealed so no liquid leaks out. Let rest.
Now comes the fun part! Mix together the flour, salt and just enough water to make an elastic dough. You won't be eating the bread so don't worry too much about the consistency. Once you have a nice dough, roll it out to form a large square or rectangle. Again, don't worry too much about the shape. You can even divide the dough and roll out two pieces. Cover the package with the dough and seal the ends. Make sure ends are sealed.
You now have a large doughlike package. Place this into a large baking tray and bake in a preheated 220C oven for about 1 hour then reduce to 200C and bake for another 40 minutes. Remove the dough from the oven. It will be hard and crusty.
This is where it gets spectacular! The idea, at least in my mind, is to serve it like this and then to crack it open in front of your guests! Better still, get them involved in the opening of the package. My kids had the honour of cracking open the package and they had a whale of a time trying to do it!
The kids however didn’t quite manage to break open the crust and I had to cut it open with a knife. That's why you see a piece of the chicken with a hole in it!! This wouldn't have happened if I had used Aluminium Foil to wrap the chicken rather than just wax paper.
After removing all the crust, remove the package containing the chicken and place on to a serving dish. Open up the package carefully as there will be steam and enjoy the lovely aroma that bursts out.
The meat was delightfully tender and basically fell off the bone. As I mentioned, I made the mistake of wrapping it in parchment paper so a lot of the juices soaked through the dough and was wasted. Lesson learnt for next time!