Jiaohua Ji (Beggar’s Chicken 叫化鸡)
What is it?
Don’t be fooled by the name, Jiaohua ji meaning beggar’s chicken is anything but poor – in fact some Chinese restaurants list it under the more auspicious name ‘emperor’s chicken’.
The recipe varies, but starts with a whole chicken, which is stuffed with onion, ginger, Chinese black mushrooms, pickled cabbage, and other preserved vegetables.
The chicken is then wrapped in huge lotus leaves, and packed in mud that’s mixed with cooking wine and salt water. The classic recipe calls for six pounds of mud.
After baking in a steady heat for three to four hours, the chef usually presents the mud pile and cracks it open before the guests, unveiling the succulent meat and wonderful aroma.
After hours of stewing inside the lotus leaves, the meat is tender and juicy; it falls easily off the bone.
Why is it famous?
Although food historians are split on its origins, most seem to think that it hails either from Hangzhou or Changshu, two cities along the Yangtze River near Shanghai.
According to popular folklore, a beggar stole a chicken from a farm. As he began to build a fire he heard the sound of horses approaching. Fearing capture, he buried the bird in the mud near the fire.
When he finally unearthed it hours later, he was delighted to discover he had cooked up a delicious dish.
Where to eat it?
Louwailou in Hangzhou, 30 Gushan Road, Solitary Island; Tel:86-571-8796-9682; or if you happen to travel to Hong Kong, Tien Heung Lau offers some of the finest Hangzhou cuisine, 18C Austin Avenue, Kowloon; Tel: 852-2662-2414); Lung King Heen in Hong Kong’s Four Seasons also serves it up, but calls it “Fortune Chicken” (Tel:852-3196-8888). Due to the lengthy cooking process, restaurants will require that you pre-order it. In most circumstances you need to give at least a day’s notice.
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