A delicious combination of two common ingredients, Chinese ginger chicken delivers complex aroma and flavour, yet is amazingly simple to cook.
Which Chinese chicken dishes have you cooked or tasted? Kung Pao Chicken, Black Pepper Chicken, Chicken Chop Suey or Three Cup Chicken? If you like any of the above, today’s recipe, Ginger Chicken, should be your next dish to try. It’s as flavoursome as the others and very easy to cook too.
A classic of Hunan Cuisine (Xiang Cai, 湘菜), ginger chicken is basically a dish of chopped chicken pieces braised with a generous amount of ginger in a soy sauce based brown sauce. It also includes wood ear mushrooms for extra texture and nutrition.
Two key ingredients
Which chicken cut to choose
My favourite cut for this dish is boneless, skinless chicken thighs as they’re flavorful and easy to handle. Simply cut them into bite-sized pieces. Chicken breasts would work too, but they tend to be less tender after braising.
That being said, please feel free to follow the traditional version which uses bone-in and skin-on pieces from all parts of a chicken. My dad would always chop a whole chicken into small pieces with a cleaver to cook dishes like this. But I haven’t yet mastered that skill.
What is “old ginger”
The Chinese name of this dish Lao Jiang Ji (老姜鸡) literally means old ginger chicken. Knowing this, are you wondering what old ginger is and where to find it?
Don’t worry! As opposed to young ginger which has pale skin and pink ends, old ginger refers to mature ginger root which is the common type you’d find in any shop. It has a stronger ginger aroma and spiciness than young ones thus making a more noticeable contribution to the flavour of a dish.
Other ingredients you need
Apart from chicken and ginger, you’ll also need the following items:
- Wood ear mushrooms. It has a crunchy texture and is excellent at soaking up flavours from the sauce. It usually comes in dried form, so requires rehydrating beforehand. If unavailable, replace it with other types of mushrooms or vegetables of your choice.
- Garlic & fresh chillies. They add extra aroma and tang to the dish.
- Light soy sauce & dark soy sauce. They’re the main source of the savoury taste. The latter also provides an appetizing colour.
- Shaoxing rice wine. A classic condiment for Chinese meat-based dishes. Skip it if you wish to make the dish alcohol-free.
- Sesame oil. It adds a hint of nuttiness.
- White pepper, or black pepper
- Salt & sugar. A small amount of sugar is for balancing the taste but it can be omitted.
- Scallions, for garnishing
Note: If you wish to learn more about the seasonings used in this recipe, check out my post on 10 Must-Have Chinese Condiments which provide more information.
The Cooking Process
It takes three simple steps to cook ginger chicken: sear the chicken; braise it with aromatics and seasonings; cook down the liquid and garnish. You may use a traditional carbon steel wok, a non-stick wok or a deep frying pan.
Heat up oil (any cooking oil with a neutral flavour) then add chopped chicken. Sear it over high heat until all sides of the chunks lose their pinkness.
🛎Tip: If you’re using cookware without non-stick coating, you can avoid sticking by 1. Heat the wok/pan empty until smoking hot, then add oil and the chicken; 2. Only flip the chicken when the bottom side turns pale (Don’t handle it too often).
Add wood ear, ginger, garlic, light and dark soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, white pepper, salt and sugar. Stir fry for 30 seconds or so to evenly distribute the ingredients. Pour in about 120ml (½ cup) water.
Cover with a lid and braise for 5 minutes (remain high heat). If you use bone-in chicken chunks or larger pieces, prolong the braising time accordingly.
Remove the lid and add sesame oil and fresh chilli. Continue cooking over high heat to reduce the liquid. Stir around a few times. To finish, sprinkle chopped scallions.
Serve the dish
A bowl of steamed rice is all you need to enjoy ginger chicken with. To make it a more healthy meal, serve a vegetable dish on the side. It can be a simple Chinese cucumber salad, a quick bean sprout stir-fry or blanched Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli) with oyster sauce.
Don’t limit yourself with this option though. I often use it as a topping for hand-pulled noodles (or hand-torn noodles), just like how you serve Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken with belt noodles. It’s absolutely delicious!
If you wish to include this dish in a multi-course festive meal, e.g. Chinese New Year feast, you can cook it in advance and reheat it right before serving.
Ginger Chicken (老姜鸡)
- 2 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
- 6 pieces boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks, about 600g/1.3lb (see note 1)
- 12 slices ginger
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 10 g dried wood ear mushrooms, rehydrated beforehand (see note 2)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 120 ml water, about ½ cup
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Fresh chilli, finely chopped, to taste
- 1 stalk scallions, finely chopped
- Heat oil in a wok/pan. Add chicken to sear over high heat until it loses the pinkness.
- Add ginger, garlic, wood ear, light and dark soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, white pepper, salt and sugar. Stir fry for 30 seconds then add water. Cover with a lid and braise for 5 minutes (remain high heat).
- Uncover. Add sesame oil and fresh chili. Continue cooking over high heat (without the lid) until the liquid reduces to the desired amount.