Before leaving for China, I had delighted in reading Nicole Mones accounts of Maggie’s descriptions of some of China’s gastronomic delights. Pork ribs in lotus leaves and Beggar’s Chicken in particular where on Brunyfire’s tasting quests during her China Diner travels…….
‘Inside the leaves, the rib meat came away under their chopsticks, rich and lean and long-cooked with a soft crust of scented rice powder. Underneath, the darker, more complicated flavor of the meat, the marrow, and the aromatics.’
But what I really wanted to try, was the traditional Beggar’s Chicken, with its overcoat of oven baked clay, and its layers of musky lotus leaves. In Hangzhou, I was disappointed that this long awaited treat arrived in a crinkly baking bag, and adding further to the consternation (of some of my fellow diners), the chicken was black! However, once the bag was opened, releasing the aroma’s of the marinating herbs, and the muskiness of the lotus leaf – and despite its somewhat alarming colour, (which is the natural colour of the Silkie chook, whose colour goes through to the very bones) the meal was good – falling apart tender, tasty and moist.
Once back home, Brunyfire attempted this at the Shack, with modest results.
First find your lotus leaf! In my case, at my local Chinese emporium opposite Coles in Sandy Bay. These came dried, and had to be soaked in boiling water before they softened. The cunning things are beautifully waterproof after all, and resisted all initial attempts at being softened in cold water.Having marinated the chicken overnight in a generous solution of soy, sweet chilli sauce and Larks Distillery Bush Liqueur, it can then be stuffed with a choice of meat fillings (I chose instead, a preserved lemon – previously foraged from a Hobart suburban garden and prepared Moroccan style) – wrap and bind the bird. For extra good insulation, I wrapped the lotus parcel in baking paper and foil.
Next, you’ll need a ton (at least an awful lot) of firewood – and a very special Fireman, because you need a stack of coals.Having submerged the chook in its bed of hot coals, keep it covered for at least 2 to 3 hours before cracking it open.Finger licking good…….
Putting the firepit through its paces. Photo by Jetsetvagabond.
POSTSCRIPT TO BEGGAR’S CHICKEN: BRUNY STYLE……..
Thanks to Fiona Riley’s blog, Life on Nanchang Lu I contacted a fellow called Frank Kassel, who was a guest of Fiona’s for a day of street food cuisine exploration. Frank’s blog, A Field Guide to Chinese Street Food happened to show a couple of images of Beggar’s Chicken which he was happy for me to use.
He writes: If it’s street food you are after, though (and I am), you will be glad to find that Hangzhou’s most famous dish–beggar’s chicken (叫化鸡) (Jiao Hua Ji)–resides right on the border between restaurant food and street food. Beggar’s chicken has only one ingredient: a whole chicken. The magic comes in the preparation. There are three steps to preparing beggar’s chicken: 1) Wrap the chicken tightly in lotus leaves; 2) Pack clay around the lotus leaves; and 3) Bake the chicken in a special oven or over an open fire.