If you can boil water, you can make this dish. This very easy 6 ingredient Shanghai Chicken can be served hot or at room temperature and is a homey chicken dish all year round.
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Spiced with star anise and cinnamon, this is a classic Chinese chicken braise. The star anise gives it a very characteristic herbal, almost medicinal scent and flavor that you won’t miss.
Also known as “red cooked,” this braise has 2 styles:
- Lu – more liquid, longer braising time
- Hong Shao – less liquid, quick cooking
Since this recipe is for a whole chicken, it would be Lu style. The trick though is not to overcook the chicken, else the breast meat will get dry.
The moist heat from gently simmering the chicken for an hour will keep the chicken breast very juicy.
The Main Master Stock
Besides star anise and cinnamon, the braising liquid contains soy sauce, sugar, and Chinese rice wine. This is the very basic “master stock” recipe that contains just 5 ingredients.
Season with just 5 ingredients
This recipe keeps it very basic with just the main 5 seasoning ingredients for the master stock:
- Soy sauce
- Rice Wine
- Star Anise
- Cinnamon stick
5 ingredients plus chicken make 6 ingredients total. You will also need water but assuming you don’t have to make a special trip to buy that, so it is not included in the ingredient count.
Variations on Master Stock for Shanghai Chicken
Other items you could add to this stock if you have them are:
- a knob of ginger, smashed
- 2-3 ea green onion
- a couple slices of dried, aged tangerine peel
- substitute 2 Tb of soy sauce with dark soy sauce
- substitute the sugar with rock sugar, a cleaner, non-refined sugar
- a handful of dried red dates
- 4-5 dried shitake mushrooms
- a cup of chestnuts, peeled
- a can of bamboo shoots or fresh if you can find them
- a couple pieces of red fermented tofu
- 5-6 dried red chiles
- Any of other 5-spice ingredients – fennel, cloves, and szechuan peppercorns
Any of above would be more than welcome in the pot, but this recipe keeps it very basic.
How to Make Easy Shanghai Chicken
Step 1: Put everything in a pot
Mix together the master stock ingredients. It has to be thinned with water to make enough liquid to braise the chicken and reduce the saltiness of the soy sauce.
In this recipe, the liquid will only come halfway up the chicken. That may seem odd, but it’s simply so you don’t have too much excess liquid leftover that you may or not use again.
Step 2: Bring to a simmer
Cook for 30 minutes, covered, at a slow simmer. Boiling would be too aggressive for this gentle bird.
Step 3: Flip the bird (with a fork)
Gently turn the chicken over, so it is breast side up. We’re flipping the bird, so both sides have equal access to the master stock.
This can be finagled by putting a large fork inside the cavity and turning it over without damaging the skin too much.
Cook for another 30 minutes, at a slow simmer, covered.
Step 4: Cool and Carve
After an hour of simmering, the chicken should be cooked. You can stick a thermometer the bird in the thickest part of the thigh to check for a temperature of 160.
Remove from the liquid, and cool a bit so it’s easier to handle. Carving the bird may be the most difficult part of an otherwise easy chicken recipe.
If you prefer not to carve, you could use bone-in chicken parts already cut up instead. In that case, reduce cooking time to about half an hour.
What to do with the leftover liquid
The master stock or leftover liquid can be used over and over again to braise other proteins such as:
- Pork belly
- Beef – chuck roast, banana shanks, or any stew meat
- Chicken wings
- Chicken drumsticks and thighs
- Chicken offal – liver, gizzards, and kidneys taste really good after braising in this sauce
- Peanuts – either raw or in the shell for a salty/sweet snack
- Firm Tofu
- Peeled, hardboiled eggs
You could even thin the liquid out with some water for soup or soup noodles. Taiwan Beef Noodle soup uses a very similarly flavored base for the soup.
Why is it named Shanghai Chicken?
This technique and seasoning are common not just to Shanghai and northern China but southeastern China as well. It is also similar to soy sauce chicken found in many Chinese enclaves around the world.
This recipe is named Shanghai Chicken because it has a bit of sweetness that is characteristic of Shanghai cuisine. It is mildly flavored with no chile or heat.
If you don’t like chicken skin
This is a very traditional dish to serve with the skin on. However, since this is a braise, it sadly never gets crispy.
To make this lower fat and to avoid flabby chicken skin, you can just as well remove the skin or use some skinless, bone-in chicken legs.
With just 6 ingredients plus water, this easy Shanghai chicken may be just the bird you’ve been looking for to spice up your next dinner.
Very Easy 6-Ingredient Shanghai Chicken
- 2.5 lb chicken use chicken parts if preferred
- 1 1/2 c soy sauce
- 1/2 c Chinese rice wine or dry sherry or sake
- 3 Tb cane sugar
- 3 c water
- 2 ea cinnamon sticks
- 3 ea star anise
- Put all items into a pot except chicken. Stir to combine the liquid with sugar. Add the chicken breast side down. The chicken will only be half submerged in liquid.
- Bring to a simmer and cook at a very low boil for 30 minutes, covered.
- Flip bird breast side up. Simmer for another 20-30 minutes until the chicken is cooked but not overcooked. It should reach an internal temperature of 160 when a thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
- Remove from liquid and serve. The cooking liquid can be cooled, refrigerated, and used again if desired.