When I was growing up in the NYC area, my family would go out to Chinatown in Manhattan (back the 1970’s) on weekends. One of my enduring food memories were the whole chickens braised in soy sauce. It wasn’t until about 2007 that I was able to locate an authentic recipe from Chiu Pei Yeung’s Essence Of Cantonese Food (Green Leaves Publishing, Hong Kong, 1986). The recipe, Soy Sauce Squab, can be found on p. 163 . The recipe called for –
2 or 3 squab, each about 1-1 1/3 lbs
900 g water (about 4 c)
600 g soy sauce
300 g sweet soy sauce (altogether 4 c)
37 g ginger (2 T+1t+1/2t)
375 g rice wine (11.5 oz)
300 g sugar
4 t salt
Executing the dish began by making a braise with all the ingredients (less the poultry), bringing it to a boil and taking it off the heat to cool. Once the braise was cool (“room temperature”?) the squab was added to the braise to marinate for 24 hours. Presumably the braise and the cooking process of the sugars in that braise would give the skin that nice soy sauce color that I remembered. Finally, the squabs would be brought to be a boil and then taken off the heat to sit covered for 20 minutes.
So I thought I’d simplify this dish by dropping the sugar, sweet soy and pressure cook the whole thing (“how would I do this if I were in kitchen stadium?”). I must say I was a little startled by how much sugar and salt was in this recipe. Four cups of sugar AND the sweet soy AND the 4 teaspoons of salt seemed a bit much.
My personal variant
2 or 3 cornish game hens, each about 1-1 1/3 lbs (this time, the smallest hens I found were 1.8 lbs)
4 cups water
4 cups soy sauce
~1 1/4 oz ginger
11.5 oz junmai daiginjo sake
1 t salt
1. Combine all ingredients into a pressure cooker
2. I use a 8L KuhnRikon Duromatic Pressure Cooker so, I sealed the pressure cooker and place on heat. When pressure indicator reached the max allowed pressure, the heat was reduced to just under 50% max power and cooked for 15 minutes. (If you’re using a different manufacturer’s pressure cooker, follow their instructions for cooking a whole chicken).
3. remove hens from heat and let sit covered for 20 mins (make sure all steam has been discharged before opening pressure cooker).
The color of the cooked poussin looked reasonably close to some of the soy sauce chickens that I’d seen in Chinese restaurants over the years.
I suppose if I had more time, I’d try and locate the sweet soy sauce (I think Iron Chef Chen calls it “tianjiangyou”) mentioned in the original recipe and redo the dish. However, flavor of the soy sauce braised hens did seem to be very close to what I remember eating when I was growing up; and my wife thought I’d done a pretty good job in making the dish.