Chestnut Chicken, A Traditional Teochew Dish

When I ran a poll on Singapore Noodles’ Instagram, three-quarters of the respondents indicated that they had not heard of this dish. Chestnut chicken is something that I’ve seen only once or twice on menus at traditional Teochew restaurants. For some reason, I’ve never ordered it – probably because it felt too extravagant for the occasion or it was only available in limited quantities. I recently came across a recipe for it in Eric Low’s cookbook ‘Teochew Heritage Cooking’ and, having bought some frozen chestnuts from the Asian grocer, decided to give it a go. The chicken is deep-fried, then stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and steamed with chestnuts in what is very similar to a Teochew braising liquid. The chicken emerges from the steamer so tender you could eat it with just a spoon. The chestnuts, having been steamed in the braising liquid for so long, develops a creamy texture similar to a jammy egg yolk, with an earthy sweetness that goes so well with the dang gui. Every element just works so well together – I’d say this is a pretty perfect dish, and I don’t say that very often.

Teochew Chestnut Chicken

Serves 4

1 tablespoon oil

3 big cloves garlic, bruised

2 thick coins of ginger

1 cinnamon stick

3 cloves

1 star anise

2 slices dang gui

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine

150g light soy sauce

650g water

2 tablespoons brown sugar

180g chestnuts, peeled

20g dried shiitake mushrooms

1 1.6kg chicken

2-3 tablespoons cornstarch (or more if you wish), mixed with a little water to form a slurry

Handful of coriander leaves

  1. Heat oil in a small pot. Add the garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and star anise.
  2. Stir fry gently until the garlic is slightly brown and spices smell fragrant.
  3. Add dang gui, Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, water, brown sugar, chestnuts and shiitake mushrooms.
  4. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and set aside.
  5. Pat dry the chicken really well with kitchen towels inside and outside.
  6. Fill a wok with about 2 inches of oil and heat until 200C.
  7. Add the chicken to the wok carefully. Deep-fry, turning once, until the whole chicken is beautifully golden brown.
  8. Transfer to kitchen towels to absorb excess oil.
  9. Strain the contents in the pot to separate the chestnut mixture from the liquid.
  10. Stuff the chicken with the spices, garlic and ginger, followed by the shiitake mushrooms.
  11. Place the chicken in a bowl that fits it comfortably. Add the chestnuts and pour over the liquid.
  12. Cover the bowl with foil or a plate. Steam, covered, on low heat for 2 ½ hours. (UPDATE: Some readers have reported that their chicken disintegrated by the end of cooking, so check your chicken every half hour past the 1 hour mark.)
  13. Tip the liquid in which the chicken cooked in into a pan or pot.
  14. Bring to a boil, then add the cornstarch slurry, stirring until thickened.
  15. Transfer the chicken and chestnuts to a serving dish.
  16. Pour over the sauce and top with coriander. Eat with lots of steaming hot rice!

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Author:

Pamelia Chia is a Singaporean chef and the author of the bestselling cookbook ‘Wet Market to Table’. After graduating with an Honor’s degree in Food Science and Technology from the National University of Singapore in 2014, she decided to trade a food scientist’s lab coat in for chef whites. She has since been working in restaurants in Singapore and Melbourne, including Candlenut and Carlton Wine Room. Her deepest interest being the preservation and celebration of Singaporean food heritage and culture, she started Singapore Noodles in 2020 as a platform to share about Singaporean food to a global audience. Find her on Instagram @pameliachia.

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