On our culinary tours of the North End and Chinatown, one of our mantras has always been “simple is best”, and Bak Chit Gai is simplicity incarnate. Translating into English as “White Cut Chicken”, this is the ultimate example of great ingredients being manipulated as little as possible. Cantonese comfort food, Yin-Yang on a plate, Bak Chit Gai is a dish that all Cantonese people grow up with, and never tire of. A whole chicken is gently poached in a mildly flavored liquid, leaving the bird unbelievably moist and tender. Rubbed with sesame oil and served with a simple sauce made from julienned ginger, scallions, salt and peanut or rice bran oil, Bak Chit Gai is traditionally served on the bone with nothing more than steamed white rice.
Bak Chit Gai
One 3 to 4 lb. free-range chicken
4 tsp. kosher salt
One 2” piece ginger
4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
2 tbs. Asian sesame oil
¼ c. minced or julienned scallions (both green and white parts)
¼ c. julienned ginger (peeled ginger, sliced into thin “coins”, stacked and cut into very fine julienne)
¼ c. Chinese peanut oil, or rice bran oil.
1 bunch cilantro, washed and picked into sprigs
Remove any clumps of fat from the chicken. Wash thoroughly both inside and out with running water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Bring 3 quarts of water with the ginger, garlic and 3 tsp. of the salt to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the chicken. Carefully submerge the chicken into the pot. (A good trick is to insert a pair of chopsticks through the body of the chicken, and, holding it by the chopsticks over the pot, carefully slide the chicken into the boiling water). When the water returns to a rolling boil, skim any scum that appears on the surface.
Turn off the heat, and cover the pot with a secure lid. Allow the chicken to cook in the hot water for 30 minutes, without removing the lid. When the 30 minutes is up, remove the cover, and use a sharp knife in the thigh to make sure any juices are running clear. Alternately insert a thermometer into the thigh, which should register 160 degrees.
Carefully remove the chicken to a colander in the sink. Prepare a bowl of ice water, large enough to immerse the chicken in. Plunge the chicken into the ice water, just to stop the cooking process. Remove the chicken back to the colander and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the chicken with the sesame oil.
Combine the scallions, ginger and the remaining salt in a small heatproof dish. In a small pan, heat the peanut or rice bran oil until hot but not smoking. Carefully pour the oil over the ginger scallion mixture.
To serve: On a cutting board, chop the chicken into bite size pieces. Arrange on a platter, garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve warm or at room temperature with the ginger scallion sauce. Plain white rice is the traditional accompaniment.
written by Jim Becker, Chinatown Guide