Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cold Ginger Chicken from Popo's Kitchen

My cooking is usually inspired by what's about to go bad in the fridge. I once made a string of four meals over the course of a month, each with a leftover ingredient from the last meal. So this Saturday, I noticed I had cilantro from a carnitas (crispy fried pork for buritos) recipe a couple weeks ago. Surprisingly, the cilantro was still good, but probably wouldn't stay that way.

The recipe I made last night is for Cold Ginger Chicken from June Kam Tong's Popo's Kitchen. It's simple but delicious. In a fancy restaurant, the dish would probably be called "Cold Poached Chicken with a Ginger Cilantro Sesame Pesto."

I was curious if other people liked this dish, so searched for that recipe on the internet--there are several posts, but none of the recipes are exactly like this one. I don't like to put other's people's writing on my blog, but consider this a plug for Ms. Tong's book of Chinese-Hawaiian home cooking and family favorites (more on the book below). I've also included a few notes on the recipe throughout.
4 lb. roaster chicken (I have also used chicken that has been cut up)
Boiling water
2 whole anise (these are star anise--star shaped seed pods found at Asian markets, not fennel--both are licorice-flavored but they are not interchangeable)
1 Tbsp. sesame oil

Oil Mixture:
1/2 c. oil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper

Ginger Mixture:
1 tsp. garlic (minced fine)
3 Tbsp. ginger (minced fine)
1/3 c. green onion (minced)
1/3 c. Chinese parsley (minced)
Dash of MSG (I've never used and it turns out fine)
1 tsp. sesame seed
1/4 tsp. sesame paste (I've used sesame oil, which is probably not as intense)

  1. Boil enough water rapidly to cover chicken. Add anise.
  2. Place chicken in water for 1 minute. Lift chicken out and rinse in cold running water.
  3. Boil water rapidly again. Place chicken in pot and bring to a boil. Cover and turn off heat. Let stand 1 hour. (I recommend not turning off heat completely, see story below.) Lift chicken out and rinse under cold water.
  4. Brush sesame seed oil on chicken.
  5. Cool and refrigerate overnight
  6. Heat oil mixture in pan. Cool slightly. Pour over ginger mixture. (I have forgotten to heat the oil, and while it's OK to mix the two cold, the heat will help to draw more of the flavor out and mellow the sharpness of the garlic)
  7. Chop chicken in bite size pieces. Serve with ginger sauce. (Yes, the pieces include bone, so you'll need a cleaver, or serve it whole.)
Before you try to make this, a cautionary tale about step three above. Because this was a favorite of mine growing up, I made this chicken dish for my first boss out of college and her family. I was making close to minimum wage; she was down to earth, had a big house, four kids over the age of nine, and offered me a room for negligible rent (it wasn't as weird as it sounds, but I did move as soon as I got a raise). I didn't have to do any cleaning or babysitting, but I did offer to cook every Sunday.

I hadn't done much cooking at home before I left for college, so called my mom a lot for recipes. We are not Chinese, but when you live in Hawaii, you grow up eating foods from a dozen different countries so I grew up eating Pad Thai, sukiyaki, stir fry, clam linguine, enchiladas, you name it. For the Chinese recipes I grew up with, my mom sent me a copy of Popo's Kitchen.

The recipe for cold ginger chicken says you should turn off the boil and let the chicken cook in the residual heat for an hour. This is what I did, and after an hour, I put the chicken in the fridge overnight to cool.

The next evening, with six hungry mouths waiting in the dining room, I started cutting up the chicken. The outside it was poached white, but toward the bone, well, it was not raw or bloody per se, but it was noticeably pink with red veins. Was this normal? I don't know, but since I couldn't reboil and chill the chicken, removed the pinkest pieces and served it with the ginger oil sauce. My boss and her family politely picked at the whitest pieces but we ate lots of salad and rice that night. They still joke about the time I tried to give them salmonella poisoning when I see them.

I have since it's a good idea to leave the pot on low heat for a while at least, rather than turning it off completely for the hour after the second boil. Regardless, before putting your chicken in the fridge, check for pink juices at the bone, and cook it a little longer. (Also, if your chicken runs away from you when you poke it, it's not done yet).

The USDA says that pinkness is not necessarily an indicator of whether chicken is safe or unsafe (young chickens, smoked chickens, and flesh with high hemoglobin concentration may all look pink). Instead they recommends cooking chicken until the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 165 degrees Farenheit. So, a more surefire way to see if your chicken is done is to start checking your simmering chicken with a food thermometer at around 40 minutes.

About Popo's Kitchen, and how to order it
My copy of Popo's Kitchen is well worn and stained with oyster sauce. It is an unassuming book with red spiral binding and color photos of only 14 dishes. However, for $14.95, it includes 200 recipes for poultry (including duck and squab), seafood, beef, and pork and a few vegetarian dishes (so few, these are found in the "Seafood" section).

First published in 1988, it commemorates 200 years since the arrival of Chinese in Hawaii from Canton in 1789. Most recipes were passed down from June Kam's mother and Popo, or grandmother: steamed fish, lobster tail in brown bean sauce, shark fin soup, melon flower soup, Gin Doi (chinese donuts), Harm Joong (steamed packets of rice, egg, and pork), Taro and Turnip cake (common dim sum dishes), won ton, and Jai (Monk's Food, one of the few vegetarian dishes).

However, it doesn't turn it's nose up at American-Chinese food (chop sui, sweet-sour fried chicken nuggets, lemon chicken, beef broccoli, coconut fried shrimp) and certainly includes recipes from other ethnic backgrounds that are so generally popular, they are simply considered "local" to Hawaii: huli huli chicken (rotisserie chicken), Portuguese bean soup, chicken long rice, shoyu chicken (soy sauce and sugar braised chicken), curry stew, teriyaki beef, Korean short ribs, Ham Turkey Jook (savory rice porridge that can be made with a turkey carcass after Thanksgiving). It even includes budget recipes you might find in any middle American household, most noticeably, a baked chicken with asparagus recipe that relies on cream of chicken soup, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and mayo.

To order Popo's Kitchen, you will probably have to look at a Borders bookstore in Hawaii --it is self-published and has no ISBN number. However, at the back of the book it says you can send a check for $11.95 plus $2.75 shipping and handling to Popo's Kitchen, 3280 Uilani Place, Honolulu, Hawaii 96816, along with your name and address. Of course, this may very well have changed since I received this book in 1996; you may be better off asking a friend in Hawaii to check the bookstores for one, unless you want to buy a used copy for $45 at Amazon.
UPDATE: Popo's Kitchen is back! According to this article in the Honolulu Advertiser, June Kam Tong originally printed this as a fundraiser for a friend's grandson with leukemia, then for Easter Seals, then the Chinese Bicentennial Committee, selling over 40,000 copies. This time she has reprinted 2000 copies as a fundraiser for neighbor's child with autism. You can buy it at for $16.65 including shipping and handling. My mom has already bought some copies for friends. If you grew up with these foods, you can't beat 77 years of experience from Mrs. Kam.

In this day and age, it is possible to find many of these recipes on the internet, but for sheer convenience, it's easier to whip out this book than your computer when you need to stir fry the chicken, broccoli, and carrots that are going to expire later that week.


Stephanie C. said...

what's the purpose of boiling the chicken for a minute then running under cold water and then putting it back in the boiling water?

steadof said...

Honestly, I wish I knew. I did this probably the first time, but not any subsequent times and I don't recall a difference--maybe it affects the color or texture of the chicken? If anyone knows, leave a comment.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great recipe and also for the link on ordering the book! Can't wait to get it!

Anonymous said...

I think it is meant to shock the chicken skin and tighten it to the flesh.
Thanks for the recipe!
I wish I knew how to butcher the chicken properly after, it looks of a mess when I do it.

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