Ginger, scallion, and garlic are the cornerstones of many Chinese cuisine styles and are as iconic and essential as the mirepoix is to the French. Few recipes faithfully showcase these flavors as well as white cut chicken, a classic Cantonese dish of poached whole chicken served with ginger and scallion infused dipping oil. This recipe, which uses boneless skinless chicken breasts, is an attempt to modernize that method by taking advantage of sous vide technology while also bypassing the hassle of handling a whole chicken (although that is always a fun thing to do when there is the time and inclination).
White cut chicken, like many Chinese foods, is delicious but conceptually simple. The two essential elements are gently cooked, juicy chicken meat, and an aromatic-infused dipping oil that provides the majority of the flavor. The oil is so flavorful that it’s not necessary to worry about flavoring the chicken during the cooking, and we can focus solely on cooking the chicken breasts just right.
Sous vide for the typical home cook doesn’t involve many liquids as the chamber vacuum systems needed to reliably seal liquids are prohibitively expensive. Nevertheless, for shorter cooks you can use a gallon Ziploc bag and basic physics to achieve the same result – place the chicken in the bag, fill it with 1 cup of Chinese poultry stock or water, and submerge the bag in the water bath. The hydrostatic pressure of the water will force the air out of the bag and you can seal and proceed with cooking as you normally would. With this method, you can poach in a flavorful liquid at a precisely regulated temperature that is well below boiling point.
This recipe is delicious and, unlike some of the food I post here, feels clean and healthy to eat. There are some variations that could be attempted, such as brining or just cooking the chicken sous vide without any liquids. While I doubt brining is necessary, I suspect that a dry sous vide would yield similar results. Again, all of the flavor is in the dipping oil.
sous vide poached chicken breasts // ginger + scallion oil
Sous vide poached chicken:
- 3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 cup Chinese poultry stock (see footnote for instructions – alternatively, just poach in water)
- 2″ strip of ginger, sliced into discs
- 2-3 scallions, coarsely chopped
Ginger scallion oil:
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2-3 scallions, finely minced
- 1″ strip of ginger, finely minced
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Preheat a water bath to 141F.
Place the chicken breasts, ginger, and scallions into a gallon-sized ziploc bag and fill with 1 cup of Chinese poultry stock or water. Immerse the ziploc bag in the bath, use the hydrostatic pressure to displace as much air as possible, and seal the bag. Hang the top of the bag off of the edge of the water bath, using clips to secure it if necessary. Cook for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine the minced scallions, ginger, and garlic with the vegetable oil in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and set aside.
Remove the chicken breasts from the bag and serve immediately with the ginger scallion oil.
A basic Chinese poultry stock can be made with a duck or chicken carcass, along with any leftover meat. In a large stockpot, parboil the carcass briefly for 5 minutes. Remove and rinse the carcass, return to a clean stockpot, and cover with cool water. Add a 2″ chunk of ginger and 3-4 scallions, coarsely chopped, and bring the water to a boil. Immediately lower to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for at least 4 hours.