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Chicken is Ji

by Jacqueline M. Newman


Spring Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(1) pages: 14 to 17

The Chinese adore chicken and all its parts. They like it whole the head pointing to an honored guest or to the most senior person, or to a birthday gal or guy, or any other important person at their table. After this presentation, they cut it up, reassemble the bird on a platter, again pointing its head to the recipient of honor, and then serving it. Called ji, this bird symbolizes togetherness. It is symbolic of what they want their family to be every year starting at their Reunion Dinner on New Year’s Eve. Every night, most parents like their family together, but often that is not realistic.

The cock or male chicken is esteemed, as are whole chickens, also ducks, geese, pigeons, quail and every bird, head to tail, their feet, too. Their eggs and their offspring are beloved steamed, boiled, broiled, baked, roasted, deep-fried, and prepared in any and every way. When pressed, chickens are Nanjing style. They like them, too, and feel the same way if fermented; staying for weeks without refrigeration and at room temperature. What is not to like? There are many ways to prepare every type of poultry, and most Chinese know Cheng Sien, in the 1st century CE, he described many of them.

The Chinese know that cooking chicken and all poultry is a gentleman’s job. They believe every cook is equal to the best physician, surgeon, or most important doctor. That is why so many men work woks at home to show off their expertise. The lowest in the medical community might be a veterinarian but even their prowess behind the wok is better than playing with a pooch. All men like to show off at their woks.

Before and during the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 CE), northern Chinese consumed lots of millet and they liked their chicken with wine lees and polished rice. They did not want to get beri-beri, a disease of thiamin deficiency. They knew about it because in 548 CE, one hundred thousand folk living in the inner castle in Nanjing during a six-month siege, had an eighty percent chance of tachycardia and edema; they did not die if their food supply was cut off and ate millet and no milled rice. Four thousand soldiers took ill and five times that number died during the siege of Loyang because polished rice was saved for them.

In the Essential of Dietetics and in Wide Descriptions of Every Day Life, many Chinese learned about these terrible times; and this knowledge influenced food preparation and dietetic practices from then on. In the second book above reprinted several times since, they learned about this health problem so when the capital did move to Loyang in 770 BCE, they knew to pay attention to saving many lives.

Wooden plates and silk fabrics with words from these books encouraged the Chinese to eat millet and not polished rice at their meals. Millet, indigenous to China’s north, was their savior. Rice came from far away and it was thought to be a lucky crop from heaven needing polishing. But they learned this was not so. While horses were reared for chariots and not eaten if deceased, dogs thought superior to pork or fish, millet was then steamed, if ground, and rice was not milled. This did help them have fewer problems.

The Han Dynasty flourished eating lots of chicken and other poultry, some roasted over an open fire, some dried, others salted, pickled, or wrapped in clay or mud before cooking. While rice culture did become more popular in China’s north as did the soy bean, after Chang Chien’s expedition to Turkestan when he was sent by Emperor Wudii and returned in 26 BCE, he brought lots of wheat so their millet-based diet was enhanced with yet another healthy staple food.

Out of necessity, people ate more game and decreased their staple food intake ingesting more chicken, pheasant, and other poultry in place of their staple foods. The country’s unification in 281 CE moved the capital to Nanjing in 317 CE and this, too, made a dietary impact, poultry use yet increasing again.

Many learned to substitute one bird for another simply changing the amount of time needed to cook it. They did not have, but you do, recipes to do so. You have some below.

Chicken with Jellyfish

½ pound boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced, then cut into thin strips
1 egg white
½ teaspoon coarse sat
2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
½ pound jellyfish, soaked in hot water for ten minutes, rinsed, then thinly sliced
½ cup chicken broth
1 scallion. Slivered on an angle
3 slices fresh ginger, slivered
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
dash of ground white pepper
2 sprigs fresh coriander, coarsely minced


1. Mix minced pork, shrimp, mushrooms, onion, and water chestnuts.
2. Shape this mixture into ten balls, and fry them until they are lightly brown, then cover and simmer them for five minutes.

Many Mushroom Chicken Congee

2 cups rice, cooked for two hours in two cups of water
2 ounces enoki mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 small fresh lingzi mushroom, coarsely minced
3 fresh black mushrooms, minced
3 scallions, thinly angle cut
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
2 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, chopped
1 boneless and skinless chicken thigh, chopped
½ cup roasted skinless peanuts
5 slices fresh ginger, slivered
1 Tablespoon black sesame seeds


1. Bring six cups cold water to the boil, add the rice and its water, then reduce the heat and add the mushroom pieces, scallion pieces, rice wine, soy sauce, both chicken pieces, ginger, and the black sesame seeds and reduce the heat to simmer these ingredients until the chicken it barely cooked (about fifteen minutes).
2. Add the peanuts, ginger, and the sesame seeds and simmer another five minutes, then serve into the individual soup bowls.

Chicken Rolls

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced, then pounded flat
2 dried seaweed sheets, each cut in quarters
1 red dragon fruit, peeled and sliced thinly
3 large kiwi, peeled and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon five-spice powder
1 egg, beaten
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups vegetable oil


1. On a seaweed sheet, add a piece of chicken then one of dragon fruit and then one of kiwi and some salt, garlic, and five spice powder. Fold in the ends and seal with some egg and cornstarch, then lay each one seam side down on a platter or cookie sheet.
2. Heat the oil in a pot, and deep-fry half the rolls, until golden, then drain on paper towels and put them in a preheated bowl. Repeat with the rest of the rolls; then serve them whole or cut in half on an angle.

Almond-Crusted Chicken

½ pound boneless chicken breasts, cut into one-inch cubes
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon white wine
1/4 teaspoon each ground white pepper, ground ginger, and garlic powder mixed together
1 scallion, minced
5 sprigs fresh Coriander, minced
½ cup almond slivers
1 cup vegetable oil


1. Mix chicken pieces with soy sauce, wine, sugar, and the spice mixture and marinate for twenty minutes. Then toss with the almond pieces and set aside for half an hour.
2. Roll the chicken in the almonds and let it rest another half an hour,
3. Heat a medium-size pot with the oil, and fry the chicken rolls until golden, and then drain them on paper towels. Serve on a pre-heated platter, each chicken cut in half on an angle.

Taiwanese Chicken

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
5 slices fresh ginger, slivered
10 cloves garlic, peeled and each one cut in half
3 scallions, angle-cut in half-inch pieces
1 large piquant pepper, seeded and slivered
5 chicken boneless thighs, cut in half-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
½ cup Chinese rice wine
5 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into sections
2 Tablespoons sesame oil


1. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil and when it is hot, add the oil, and the ginger, garlic, scallions, and pepper pieces and stir-fry them for two minutes.
2. Next, add the chicken pieces and continue stir-frying for five minutes until the chicken is crisp; and then add the sugar, rice wine, and the soy sauce and reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.
3. Add the basil leaves, stir once, and serve.

Pumpkin Chicken

1½ pound skinless and boneless chicken thighs
1 small pumpkin, seeds removed, toasted, and put in a small serving bowl
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 slices fresh ginger, slivered
2 Teaspoons sweet bean paste
1 teaspoons chili paste with garlic
½ teaspoon crushed or ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 three-inch square red fermented doufu, mashed


1. Cut the chicken thighs into one-inch cubes.
2. Mix brown sugar, ginger, sweet bean sauce, chili paste, and the crushed Sichuan peppercorns with half cup cold water, stir in the doufu and chicken thighs and steam covered for ten minutes.
3. Pour this into the pumpkin, cover it with the pumpkin top, and steam over boiling water for thirty minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the pumpkin soft and clean.
4. Serve with two large spoons so everyone can help themselves to the pumpkin flesh and its contents.
5. Make sure the pumpkin is in a bowl that will not tip over, serve the seeds in their own small bowl.

Chicken and Egg Whites

1 whole boneless and skinless chicken breast
1 boneless and skinless chicken thigh
½ teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
3 dried Chinese black mushrooms, soaked in one cup warm water until soft
5 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon piquant hot sauce
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with two teaspoons of cold water
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ cup defrosted frozen peas


1. Cube both chicken meats, then mix them with salt and sugar and set them aside for half an hour.
2. Discard or use soaked mushroom stems for making a stock, squeeze out and save the mushroom water, then coarsely dice the mushroom caps.
3. Stir mushroom pieces with the piquant sauce and steam this in a heat-proof bowl over boiling water for ten minutes.
4. Next, gently stir in the egg whites, add the soy and oyster sauces, and steam together for three minutes more before adding the cornstarch mixture and stirring until it thickens (about two minutes); then add the sesame oil and the peas and stir for one or two minutes until the peas are heated through, then serve.

Chicken Livers and Bitter Melon

1 bitter melon, discard seeds, cut in half, thin sliced
½ pound chicken livers, each cut into three pieces
1 Tablespoon fermented black beans, mashed
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large cove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 scallion, angle sliced
1 small red chili pepper, seeded and slivered
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch and one of cold water


1. Mix prepared bitter melon with chicken liver pieces and black beans.
2. Heat oil in wok or fry pan, add prepared chicken liver mixture, and stir-fry for two minutes.
3. Add the bitter melon mixture, the garlic pieces, and oyster and soy sauces, and stir-fry for two minutes, then add the sugar and cornstarch mixture, and stir fry until thick, then serve.

Chicken, Hazel Nuts, and Eggs

1 pound skinless and boneless chicken thighs
½ teaspoon cayenne powder
1/4 cup hazel nuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
5 eggs, beaten
2 cup torn napa cabbage leaves, divided in half
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper


1. Pound the thigh meat until thin, and mix cayenne powder, chopped nuts, and the flour, and toss this with the chicken pieces.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, then add the chicken mixture and stir-fry for two minutes, then remove them to a platter.
3. Put half the napa greens around the outside of a platter, scramble the eggs until very soft and add the other half of the cabbage and cook until it starts to wilt, then mix with the cooked chicken pieces and put this in to the center of the platter.
4. Mix the honey, soy and oyster sauces and the black vinegar and ground pepper, and bring this to the boil and pour it on the greens, and serve.

Chicken and Snow Peas

1 pound snow peas, strings and ends discarded
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cut into one-to two inch cubes
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon Chinese red vinegar
½ Tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sa cha sauce
3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon toasted white and black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sesame oil


1. Cut snow peas in half the long way, then in half the other way, and set them aside.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, and the chicken, and stir-fry for two minutes, then add the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, both vinegars, corn starch, and sa cha sauce, and stir-fry for one more minute.
3. Add snow pea pieces, shallots, and the garlic slices and toss for two more minutes, then transfer to a preheated bowl, sprinkle the sesame seeds and the sesame oil on top, and serve.

Steamed Chicken with Fuyu

1 pound skinless boneless chicken thigh meat, cubed
3 one-inch squares fermented bean curd (fuyu)
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons coarsely chopped soaked white fungus
1 teaspoon chopped dried tangerine peel
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 chili peppers, seeded and minced
1 Tablespoon cornstarch


1. Mix chicken with mashing the bean curd, the sesame oil, light soy sauce, and the sugar, and set aside for five minutes.
2. Mix white fungus, red chilies, tangerine peel, oil, fresh ginger, chili peppers, and cornstarch with two tablespoons cold water, and stir this well.
3. Mix all the ingredients together in a heat-proof serving bowl, and steam over boiling water for twenty minutes; then serve it.

Clay Pot Chicken with Mushroom Rice

½ Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large fresh chili pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 clove fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
5 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
½ pound boneless and skinless chickens breasts, coarsely sliced
5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, stems discarded, water squeezed out, then sliced
2 cups cooked long-grain rice
3 slices fresh ginger, slivered
1 scallion, angle slivered
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch


1. Mix vegetable oil, seeded chopped chili pepper, smashed garlic cloves, soy sauce, and sugar, and set this aside.
2. Heat a clay pot, add the vegetable oil and the mushroom slices and stir-fry for one minute, then add the ginger and scallion pieces and the rice and stir until these grains are separated and coated.
3. Then add the chicken and mushroom pieces and stir-fry this for two minutes.
4. Now add the sesame oil, thin soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, and the cornstarch and cover and simmer with half a cup boiling water for twenty minutes.
5. Uncover and stir, and serve from the clay pot.

Chicken Thighs and Lychees In Lotus Leaf

2 Chicken thighs, cut into one-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon each cornstarch, sugar, and salt
10 lychee fruit, skins and seeds discarded, each fruit cut in half
1 lotus leaf, blanched in hot water
3 slices fresh ginger, slivered
1 scallion, angle sliced
½ teaspoon sesame oil
dash of ground white pepper


1. Marinate chicken thigh for fifteen minutes in soy and oyster sauces, cornstarch, sugar, salt, sesame oil, and the ground pepper.
2. Cut away the thick center stem of the lotus leaf and put the chicken pieces and lychee halves on it wrapping like a package. Tie it with lotus leaf center strip.
3. Steam the packages seam side down over boiling water for twenty minutes, then remove them and and cut an ‘X’ to open each package part way.
4, Insert ginger and scallion pieces and the sesame oil; and gently stir the top of the package contents. Then let the diners help themselves to its contents.

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