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What Is Soy Sauce Chicken?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 05 September 2016
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In the North China region of Canton, the dish known as soy sauce chicken is as familiar as chicken pot pie in the West. Chicken pieces are sauteed for more than a half-hour in a sauce that is much more complicated than the name suggests. Common is not only light and dark soy sauce, but also ingredients like garlic, ginger, scallions, cinnamon, star anise, wine, sugar, pepper and water. Some even add dried fruits like dates or raisins. When fully cooled to room temperature or even colder, which is how this dish is typically served, the sauce will have congealed into a savory and distinctive coating.

Many chefs use chicken quarters for soy sauce chicken, which is a traditional dish often prepared for Chinese New Year. That is not to say smaller pieces cannot be used. Others just use the smaller pieces like the wings, drumsticks and legs, saving the breasts for another dish.

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Though many chicken dishes involve marination before cooking, the process of making soy sauce chicken simmers the chicken in the sauce instead. While a light, standard soy sauce is acceptable, many cooks will use a combination of dark and light soy. For 2 lbs. (about 900 g) of chicken parts, one recipe uses a mixture of 1 cup (about 240 ml) soy and 3 cups (about 360 ml) water, while another uses 4 cups (about 950 ml) of water, with 1 cup (about 235 ml) of light soy and 0.5 cup (about 118 ml) of dark soy, which has a sweeter, bolder flavor with the addition of molasses or caramel.

Once the soy sauce chicken has come to a simmer in the sauce, the rest of the ingredients can be added. The most common of these are star anise, cinnamon, chopped scallions, minced garlic and some sliced ginger. Some go further and add more ingredients like dates, raisins, pepper, red wine and sugar, which lend the dish more diversity of flavor. The chicken is then sauteed over medium heat for about a half hour, then allowed to cool for a few hours or more before mealtime — allowing the skin and meat underneath to soak up even more flavor.

Though light and dark soy are customarily used for soy sauce chicken, any type of soy sauce will work to imbue the final dish with distinction. This includes the Japanese shoyu and tamari styles. Once ready to serve, several types of side dishes can be paired with this meat like rice or stir-fried lo mein noodles. Many also whip up a dipping sauce, with ingredients like oil, chicken stock, ginger, onion or scallions and salt.

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