Japanese Sake-Steamed Chicken

With the holidays in the rear-view mirror and the cold, long winter staring me down with no apparent end in sight, I find myself looking for easy things to cook. It's possible I'm still a bit shell-shocked from the all-day Ramen Broth adventure last weekend ... but is it too much to ask to want something that doesn't take 20 steps to finish, or take all day, but that still tastes fantastic?

I guess I've arrived at a point where right now, I want to have my cake and eat it too. I needed a break, but I wouldn't settle for sub-par tasting vittles.

Enter the Japanese Steamed Chicken.

In my food wanderings, I'd found a lovely little website called "Gilt Taste" which features lots of lovely little this and that, most of which I've not had the time yet to become better acquainted with because I can't stay away from the Food & Wine section. You can buy lots of tasty ready-to-eat nibbles on the site, but I find myself mostly meandering through the Recipes and Stories section.

It was in the Recipes section I found lots of wonderful recipes from some very well-respected food writers: Ruth Reichl (of the most-beloved and oft-missed Gourmet food magazine), Francis Lam (we're best-buds on Twitter) and Whitney Chen Wright (she taught me how to make my own Ricotta and it's so easy!).

I discovered something exciting with this recipe: it doesn't take any longer to steam a chicken than it does to roast one and this turned out to be the moistest chicken I've ever cooked. Steamed with green onion and ginger infused sake and water, the chicken takes on my most favorite of Asian flavors.

It's important, and I can't stress this enough, that you're using a really good quality bird (you know what this means - hunt down a good bird that has been raised cage-free with no antibiotics, etc.). This is a very simple dish with very clean flavors so your ingredients need to be primo.

Both Ruth and I suggest making a Ginger-Scallion sauce to serve with the chicken. I'm including my most favorite of all sauces from—who else?—David Chang. It's in his Momofuku cookbook if you have it.

Now let's get ready to get your bird on!

Japanese-Steamed Chicken

*Adapted from Ruth Reichl's recipe on Gilt Taste

Serves 4

1 organic chicken (3-4 lbs is good)
Salt, to taste
1½ cups sake
1½ cups water
1 bunch scallions
1 1” piece ginger, sliced

Clean and salt chicken:
Rinse the chicken, dry it well, and salt it generously inside and out. Cut scallions in 2” pieces. Stuff about half of them in the bird with about half of the ginger slices. Here's where I would tie the chicken's leggies together with cooking twine.

Prep steamer:
Mix the sake with the water. I used a large wok to hold the steaming liquid and a bamboo steamer for the chicken. If you don't have those items, put a steamer inside a large casserole with a tight cover. (If you don’t have a steamer, a colander will do.) Pour in enough of the sake/water mixture so that it just reaches the bottom of the steamer. I found I used about 3/4 of the liquid at this point. Add the remaining ginger and scallion to the liquid.

Steam chicken:
Put the chicken on the steamer basket, breast-side up. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot or bamboo steamer, turn the heat down to a simmer and steam gently. Check after about 20 minutes on the level of the liquid – if it’s already low, top off with some water or more of the water/sake mixture if you have any left.

Finish cooking:
At 50 minutes, check for doneness by making a cut in the breast and checking that the meat is no longer red and the juices run clear. If not, steam for a few more minutes. I also used an instant read thermometer in the thigh to make sure I was around 165-168 degrees.

Rest, and serve:
Allow the chicken to rest in the covered pot, with the heat off, for about half an hour before serving. Serve with David Chang's Ginger Scallion Sauce, excellent soy sauce, or ponzu.

It's really important that you let the bird rest FOR THE ENTIRE HALF HOUR. If you try tearing into it before then, the juices in the chicken are just going to run out all over and the meat will dry out.

David Chang's Ginger Scallion Sauce

makes about 3 cups

2 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1-2 large bunches)

1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger

1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

1 1/2 t. usukucki (light soy sauce)

3/4 t. sherry vinegar

3/4 t. kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Though it's best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, ginger scallion sauce is good from the minute it's stirred togethe up to a day or two in the fridge. Use as directed, or apply as needed (meaning often!).

This sauce is fantastic served with this chicken, or simply dressing some hot ramen noodles (or any kind of noodle). Serve it over a bowl or rice topped with a fried egg. Serve it with grilled meat of any kind or seafood. Or almost anything :) It's REALLY good.