For me, there is quite literally nothing that says home cooking like soy sauce chicken. I've been eating this dish since I learned to chew, so it's probably in my DNA. Just the very thought of it immediately takes me back to my childhood in Wuhan, China, when everyone from my grandma to my aunt to family friends would make this dish. Then, when we moved to Pittsburgh, PA when I was 5, my dad would try his best to recreate it for me. It wasn’t identical by a long stretch, but bless him for trying.
Years passed, I became entrenched in my studies and my sole extracurricular activity of painting and drawing and I nearly forgot about my once-ubiquitous childhood dish. Fast-forward to a couple years ago, when I was standing in the kitchen of my Park Slope apartment (my previous home) pondering what to make for dinner and I suddenly remembered the dish so viscerally I could taste it. Clearly that’s what I was having for dinner. And I’ve been making it for myself, loved ones, and friends every few months ever since.
This recipe isn’t exactly the version I had when I was younger, but it’s close enough and it certainly satisfies my nostalgia. You can tweak it by adding shiitake mushrooms, which I often do, or just about any other Asian vegetable. See recipe below.
1 whole chicken, cut into parts (or 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks)
2 carrots, speared
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups soy sauce
1⁄2 cup water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, crushed
1⁄2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 -2 piece star anise
2 cloves garlic
1 cinnamon stick
1 red chile, chopped (deseeded if you want mild spicy)
Chopped scallions, for garnishing
Salt and pepper to taste
- Marinate the chicken in 2 cups soy sauce for at least one hour. You can let it marinate overnight if you wish to deepen the flavor.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the soy sauce. Season chicken with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken when the pan is hot and brown both sides of each piece. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly.
- Add the carrots, five spice, star anise, cinnamon stick, and chile and cook for another 15-30 seconds.
- Add the reserved soy sauce, oysters sauce, water, and brown sugar. Turn heat down to the lowest setting and let simmer for at least one hour. You can simmer for up to four hours to really tenderize the chicken and let the flavor seal in.
- Serve over rice and top with scallions.