Recipe for the Beggar’s Chicken (jiào huā jī, 叫化鸡)
Adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Fish and Rice
1 four-pound chicken
For the marinade
A small piece of fresh ginger, skin on
2 spring onions, white parts only
2 ½ tbsp. light soy sauce
½ tsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1 tsp caster sugar
½ tsp salt
For the stuffing
10 spring onions or 150gr baby leeks, white parts only
100gr skinless belly pork
2 tbsp lard
1 ½ tbsp. Shaoxing wine
1 tbsp light soy sauce
¼ tsp salt
For the salt-crust pastry
500gr plain flour
500gr fine salt
For the wrapping
4 whole dried lotus leaves
Preheat the oven to 220°C.
First, prepare the chicken. Slice through the skin between the legs and the body, but don’t sever the legs – just pull them away from the body. Break the hip and knee joints of each leg so they hang loose. If the feet are still attached, chop them off just below the drumstick joint and set them aside for future use. Use the flat part of the chines cleaver to smack the breast bone hard several times, so the body of the chicken collapses slightly. Put in a large bowl ready for the marinade.
Gently smack the fresh ginger and spring onion whites with the flat side of the Chinese cleaver to loosen their fibers, then put them in the cavity of the chicken. Mix all the other marinade ingredients in a small bowl and pour them over and into the chicken, using your hands to spread the marinade over it. Set aside for at least an hour, turning occasionally.
For the stuffing, cut the spring onion whites (or leeks) and the pork into slivers. Heat the lard in a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add the spring onion and stir-fry for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the pork and continue to stir-fry until it has changed color. Add the other stuffing ingredients, mix well, then remove them from the wok and set aside.
For the dough, mix the flour and salt in a big bowl. Add enough water so the dough can be rolled. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside.
Soak the lotus leaves in boiling water (10 minutes) until they are supple and bendable.
Put one drained lotus leaf, shiny side down, on the work surface, folding down the slightly conical center so it lies flat. Cover with two overlapping pieces of baking paper (a step I totally missed, hence the leaking of the juices on the dough). Put the other leafs, shiny side down, on top of the first one (only partially overlapping, we want to create a bigger lotus leaf surface).
Remove the chicken from the marinade and put it breast-side up in the center of the leaves. Discard the ginger and spring onion. Put the stuffing and its juices in the cavity of the bird. Fold the flap of skin at the base of the bird over the body. Pull the legs and fold them tightly along the body. Do the same with the wings. Wrap the bird tightly in the first leaf, then in the foil, and finally in the outer leafs. Use kitchen twine to tie it tightly like a parcel.
Roll the dough into a large rectangle, 4-5 mm thick and wide enough to enclose the bird. Put the chicken upside down on the pastry and wrap it tightly, sealing the overlapping edges with a little water. Turn the bird over and place it on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
Roast for 40 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 150°C - 160°C and cook for another 2 hours. The crust will be hard and dark brown. Allow to rest for 20 minutes before serving, then put the parcel on a wooden board and take it to the table with a mallet to smash open the shell.
Remove the crust, use scissors to snip the twine and unwrap the leafs.