Monday, September 27, 2010

Cheap Dinner: Soy Braised Chicken (Hong Shao Ji)

Hong shao ji, or red cooked chicken, is a bargain meal.
Posted at 5:14 PM
Why did the cook cross the supermarket aisle? To get to the chicken calling, "Cheap, cheap!"

One of my supermarkets was selling drumsticks this morning (and still is) for 89 cents a pound, so I had a great reason to make one of my favorite comfort foods, hong shao ji (红 烧 雞), or red cooked chicken. Not counting the braising liquid, the per-serving cost of the meat came to 52 cents per adult serving, and 26 cents per child. That's cheaper than a single fast food chicken nugget, plus tastier and lower in fat, too.

If you make soy sauce eggs and tofu (recipes below) with the leftover braising liquid, you can stretch out the meal into even more servings.

What I like about this dish is you basically dump everything into the pot and get a delicious result.
That's how my mother cooked this dish, which we also call soy sauce chicken, and that's how I've been making it since I started cooking. Why mess with a good thing?
If you're a fan of oven braising, pressure cooking or slow cooking, by all means, try it your way and let me know how it turns out.

RECIPE
Red Cooked Chicken (soy sauce braised chicken)
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS
1 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 cups water
5 cloves garlic, smashed and paper (skins) discarded
5 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated, or 1-inch piece sliced into coins
1 to 2 Tablespoons brown sugar or honey
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
1 stick cinnamon (optional)
2 whole star anise (optional)
a strip of orange peel without the white pith (optional)

3.75 pounds chicken drumsticks (my package had 13 drumsticks)

DIRECTIONS
1. Combine everything but the scallions and chicken in a 4-quart pot or saucepan. Add drumsticks and scatter scallions over the top.

If needed, add 1/4 cup extra soy sauce plus 1/4 cup extra water to nearly submerge chicken pieces.

2. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to very low setting, cover and simmer until very tender, about one and a half hours. The meat pulls easily off the bone.

Serve with steamed rice, a vegetable such as long beans or bok choy, and soy sauce eggs and tofu (optional, recipes below). Drizzle chicken and rice with some braising liquid.

You can also take 1 cup of the braising liquid and reduce it by half for a more intensely flavored, slightly thicker sauce.

NOTE: You can cool the braising liquid, skim chicken fat from the top and freeze the liquid to use another time.
To cook a smaller package of chicken legs (usually 5 drumsticks or 4 thighs), halve the rest of the recipe and use a 2- to 3-quart pot.

RECIPE
Soy Sauce Eggs

INGREDIENTS
braising liquid from soy braised chicken
6 soft boiled eggs with shell removed

DIRECTIONS
Place braising liquid and eggs in a small (2 to 3 quart) sauce pan.
Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce flame to medium low and simmer uncovered 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let sit 10 more minutes before serving, or let cool and store refrigerated in some braising liquid.

NOTE: If you want the flavor to penetrate more, you can prick the whites of the boiled eggs all over with the tines of a fork. Be aware that if you overdo it, the egg can fall apart.

RECIPE
Soy Sauce Braised Tofu

INGREDIENTS
braising liquid from soy braised chicken
1 block firm tofu (14 to 16 ounces)

DIRECTIONS
Cut tofu into 1/2-inch to 1-inch cubes and stir them into braising liquid from soy braised chicken. Bring to simmer and continue to braise for about 15 minutes or longer if desired.

NOTE: Soy sauce eggs and braised tofu can be cooked in the braising liquid together.

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