Ginger and scallions

The story goes that a Chinese chef working at a major Waikiki hotel in the 1960s wanted to create a dish that was reminiscent of his homeland but with a new twist. So he poached a chicken and created a ginger-scallion dipping sauce, and the dish became so popular that it was copied all over the state and is now a standard offering on Chinese menus.

The dish, which my Mom calls “choong yau gai” (literally translated to mean “scallion oil chicken”) but is also sometimes called “gurn choong gai” (ginger-scallion chicken), is a dish we ate almost every weekend when we went out to the restaurant for Saturday night dinner. We kids sided with the pedestrian soy sauce chicken, but my Mom would sometimes put her foot down and insist on ordering choong yau gai. It must have been her love for ginger; I just thought the dipping oil was too much oil. (Even then I had an aversion to oil.)

Dipping sauce

Funny how when you get older and you think about your childhood, you start craving food that you weren’t necessarily fond of but it just brings back warm memories. For me it was our family dinners on Saturday nights and my Mom ordering her favorite chicken dish.

Now I appreciate this chicken dish because of its simplicity and clean flavor. At its basic level, it’s a poached chicken. In other parts of the world it’s more famously known as Hainan chicken or bah ji gai. But they all have the basic technique of poaching a whole chicken resulting in tender, moist morsels.

For my version, I used the poaching technique from “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen,” now a standard cookbook for any Chinese kitchen. But I played with the poaching liquid by adding a few extra ingredients. And I used a suggestion from popular blogger Steamy Kitchen, who recommends for the modern-day kitchen to use chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken.

Using chicken breasts means you don’t spend a lot of time poaching the chicken. You can also keep the poaching liquid as chicken stock to cook rice and give it more flavor. Never waste, right?

Poached chicken with the ginger-scallion dipping sauce

Ginger Scallion Chicken
Makes 2 to 3 servings

2 chicken breasts on bone with skin (about 1.5 pounds)
2 T finely chopped fresh ginger (skin removed)
2 T finely chopped scallions or green onions
4 T vegetable oil or other light-tasting oil
1 t sesame oil
2 t salt

For poaching liquid
Enough water to cover chicken
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 slices of fresh ginger
1 t grounded galanga
5 Szechuan peppercorns
2 t salt

Start by rubbing each chicken breast with 1 teaspoon of salt, being sure to get some salt under the skin. Let sit for 5 minutes and then rinse and let dry on a rack.

Boil water in a pot and add the garlic, ginger, galanga, peppercorns, and salt. Then add the chicken (add more water if needed to cover the chicken breasts). Cook for about five minutes at a boil, skimming the scum from the top. Turn off heat, cover pot, and let sit for 20 minutes (you may need to adjust the time depending how thick your chicken breasts are). Remove chicken from pot and check internal temperature to see if it’s 170 degrees. If not, put chicken back in the poaching liquid and turn on the heat and simmer for a few minutes more.

When chicken is done, put chicken breasts briefly in a cold water bath and then drain in colander. Pat dry and leave at room temperature or refrigerate.

Make the dipping sauce by warming the oil in a small sauté pan or sauce pan, remove pan from heat and add the ginger and scallion and stir to blend and warm. Place in a small dish and serve with your chicken.

When chopping your chicken, it’s best to use a butcher’s knife or cleaver so you can chop through the meat and bone in one swoop. If you’re nervous like me about getting the right sizing, start by cutting down the top edge at an angle and then push down on the handle to cut through the entire breast. As always, safety first so make sure your fingers are away from the knife or cleaver.

23 Responses to The Hawaii Version of Poached White Chicken

  1. foodhoe says:

    wow, I love the new digs! it is so shiny and clean looking over here Ben… very nice! I’ve been seriously obsessing over the momofuku recipe for ginger scallion sauce, this looks like fabulous comfort food.

  2. Karen says:

    oooo – looks great! I love a simple poached chicken 🙂 I add a little salt to my scallion oil just in case the chicken comes out a bit bland.

  3. Ginger chicken! I loved this dish when I lived back in Hawaii. Hainanese Chicken is similar, but the dipping sauce has chile and lime juice in it. Thanks for posting it.

    Oh, and congrats on the new digs!

    • Ben Ben says:

      Thanks Nate! Yeah, I notice Hainanese chicken is very similar, but not sure if I would like the addition of chile. The lime sounds interesting.

  4. hungry dog says:

    Mmm. My dad used to make this too, though he steamed it. I loved it as a kid and still do now. I’d like to poach it the way you do it, though–thanks so much for posting the recipe. And I love the new blog! It looks gorgeous. So glad you haven’t abandoned blogging.

    • Ben Ben says:

      Steaming sounds like a good healthy approach. I thought about steaming it too, but noticed most recipes poach it. Poaching actually is a nice way to ensure the tenderness, and you get all that good poaching liquid which is really chicken broth! 🙂

  5. Claudine says:

    Ben, loooove the new digs! Also – we must be on somewhat of the same foodie wavelength – had a craving this week for Hainanese Chicken Rice, and, not knowing a good place to get it in SF, made some for the very first time, also using a recipe from Steamy Kitchen! 🙂

  6. Carroll says:

    Congratulations on the new chapter, Ben! It looks really nice over here — sleek, sophisticated…goes well with your gorgeously remodeled kitchen. I can’t remember how long ago I found you, but I still make your sticky chicken on a regular basis and when people rave about it, I refer them to your blog. (Credit where credit is due, y’know? :-)) That said, I still love the idea that thanks to you, maybe someday our beautiful new little half-Vietnamese granddaughter, will fondly recall “Grandma’s yummy chicken” — and it will be “mine” 🙂

    • Ben Ben says:

      Thanks Carroll! That’s so sweet about your experience with the sticky chicken recipe. I have to admit, I learned it from my sister, and I bet she got it from someone else in Hawaii. Nice to know that it’s going on to more generations. Circle of life, you know? LOL

  7. […] My friend Ben at Focus, Snap, Eat also recently made a version of poached Chicken Rice. […]

  8. agent713 says:

    Loving the look of the new blog! I agree with this comment: “Funny how when you get older and you think about your childhood, you start craving food that you weren’t necessarily fond of but it just brings back warm memories.” So true. For me, lately, it’s pork dishes. I don’t love pork but it’s comforting and familiar so I’ve been eating a lot more of it lately.

  9. Mrs. L says:

    Man, I go away for a bit and I come back and Ben has an awesome new site, not to mention a recipe for poached white chicken I need to try! Love the new blog!

  10. Carolyn Jung says:

    One of my fave dishes. Plus, I seriously can never get enough of that dipping sauce. You know my weakness for ginger, so this stuff is like crack to me. LOL

    • Ben Ben says:

      Me, too, Carolyn. Love ginger. Maybe we should just drop the scallion next time and just use double the minced ginger!

  11. Row says:

    Love the new site… very pretty! I was introduced to this dish just a few years ago and was hooked. I especially love the ginger scallion sauce and would eat it plain with rice. Thanks for the recipe! 🙂

  12. Odie says:

    Would like to make this poached chicken recipe but I’m a bit lost because recipe says 4T cup vegetable oil.
    Now is it 4Teaspoon or 4 cups??
    Also, just what is “galanga”? Thanks

    • Ben Ben says:

      Hi Odie, thanks for catching the typo. I’ve corrected it now. It should be 4 Tablespoons (the capital T is short for tablespoons and the lower t is for teaspoon, sorry if you didn’t catch my shorthand). Also, galanga is a root similar to ginger popular in Southeast Asian cuisine. I just happened to have grounded powder galanga spice so I added that to the poaching liquid to just add a twist, but it’s definitely optional. The idea with the liquid is you can add anything you like to infuse the chicken as long as it’s not an overpowering flavor because this simple white chicken recipe gets the flavoring when you use the dipping sauce. Hope it turns out for you and thanks for letting me know of the typo after all these years! 🙂