Xian ji, salty chicken (often erroneously called salted chicken, yen ji), is a tasty twist to the most common and popular Chinese chicken dish, 'white chopped chicken' which is simply boiled chicken. The Shanghainese often complain that white chopped chicken is too plain and so they season the chicken with wine to make drunken chicken and salt to make salty chicken.
This is an easy and quick way to make salty chicken. Instead of salting the chicken overnight and steaming it with ginger and spring onions, I prefer to salt it on the same day as I cook it and simmer it and rub salt all over when the chicken is still warm. This method saves you from having to prepare a night ahead, the chicken is tender and there's stock for soup and cooking. I serve xian ji cold, like drunken chicken, and it is a dish that never fails to get me praises. The only commandment I insist on keeping when making xian ji is that only free-range birds should be used. No dead white chickens from the supermarket. When the cooking is this simple, you must get the best chicken. I call my chicken farmer a day before I want the chicken and he slaughters it for me just before I collect the chicken at his house.
My friend Janet, who has recently relocated from England, gave me a box of smoked Maldon sea salt flakes which made a heck of difference to my xian ji. The salt not only gives a slight smoky flavor but also tastes great, without the sharp slight bitter saltiness that regular salt has. "Thou shalt use Maldon sea salt flakes to make xian ji" is now my second commandment for making this dish.
Laura of Florence, Italy once asked me how I chop my chicken into small pieces. This post is specially for you, Laura, and for all of you who have never chopped chickens.
My mom had only two knives in the kitchen. Okay, there were a couple more, but there were only two that she used daily. The most indispensable one was a 'dai doe ma' (meaning big female knife; apparently knives are feminine to the Chinese) which has a blade about 5"/13 cm deep and 10"/25 cm long. The other was a little paring knife. The doe ma peels, chops, slices, juliennes, minces, smashes, mashes and even lifts cut veggies from cutting board into wok.
Chopping a cooked chicken:
Chopping a cooked chicken:
Joint the chicken into 6 pieces: 2 legs, 2 wings, breast and back.
Chop the back first, into 2 pieces lengthwise and then chop each piece into smaller pieces and place on the serving dish, so that they can prop up the breast. Plus it is the least attractive part. Instead of serving one chicken on one plate as is usually done, I've divided the chicken into half so that I can keep the other half in the fridge to chill and take it out if needed.
Cut the leg into three. Chop into smaller pieces and place on the serving dish. Remember, the idea is to arrange the bird so that it still kind of looks like one.
Cut the breast into half lengthwise. Here you get a better look of a dai doe ma, Chinese cleaver. It's big-bladed and heavy. Chops right through tough bones.
Chop chop chop, making sure pieces are even (mine aren't because I tend to hesitate when I chop and that disturbs the chopping rhythm)
Put any leftover xian ji into a small pot or dish and pour in some chicken stock (from cooking the chicken) and Shaoxing Huatiao wine to cover. Chill until ready to eat. Yum yum yum!
1 free-range chicken, about 2 kgs
Maldon salt flakes (smoky or not, as preferred)
1. Rub about 1/2 teaspoon of salt inside and outside of the chicken, cover and place into the fridge for at least 1/2 hour (if longer, reduce the salt for rubbing later by 1/2 teaspoon). Boil a pot of water enough to cover the chicken. Carefully place the chicken into the boiling water, cover, and when the water comes to a boil again, reduce the fire until the water just simmers. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
2. Checl for doneness by plunging a thin skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. Let chicken cook longer if the liquid that runs out is reddish. Carefully lift the chicken from the water and place into a large bowl or pot of room temp water. Soak about 5 minutes (longer if making white chopped chicken).
3. Lift the chicken onto a large platter. Drain. Rub about 2 teaspoons of salt in and outside of the chicken.
4. Wrap the chicken in foil and when cool, put into the fridge for at least 5 to 6 hours before chopping.