Using a Proper Knife
The most intricate part of this recipe is the last step, where we carve up the chicken into pieces we can easily grab with a chopstick.
My dad has two knives - a "chef's knife", meant for vegetables and boneless meats, and a heavy duty cleaver, meant for occasions like this.
It's a lot harder to do this without a proper cleaver, so I've linked to a few options:
If you don't have one, you can also try cutting at the various joints, which my dad didn't demonstrate but said is possible.
You'll also want a thick wooden cutting board, which helps absorb the impact of forceful chopping.
If you're not familiar with Chinese knives, my dad and I did an entire interview on the basics. Also, you can check out our blog post that expands on what we talked about.
Choosing a Chicken
As we mentioned before, if you're making this for Lunar New Year and following Chinese tradition, you'll need to buy a chicken that has its head, feet, toes, etc. intact.
The two main types that my dad uses are "Yellow Hair Chicken" and "Kwai Fei Chicken".
- Yellow Hair Chicken tends to have more chewy meat. Many Chinese people prefer this.
- Kwai Fei Chicken tends to have a larger quantity of meat on it, with thicker meat that's more tender.
For this specific recipe, my dad got hooked up by his old restaurant with their wholesale pricing, but you can usually buy these at an Asian grocery store or market.
If you don't have access to an Asian grocery store, you can just buy as fresh and whole of a chicken as you can get, and try to stick to a chicken that's around 4 pounds so it cooks more evenly in the pot.
The fresher the chicken, the better. And, if you can, buy it sustainably.
Sourcing Chicken Sustainably
The most environmentally friendly (and freshest) way to source chicken is to raise your own, just like my parents did back in the day.
Obviously, that’s not easy for most of us, so some options would be to shop with a local farm or butcher, or to buy Animal Welfare Certified chicken.
Amongst the strongest seals of approvals is the Animal Welfare Certified label from the Global Animal Partnership, a non profit originally created by Whole Foods Market in 2008.
This is one of only 3 food certification labels endorsed by the ASPCA, one of the oldest and largest humane societies in the world, the others being “Certified Humane” and “Animal Welfare Approved.” Although they’re not as widespread, they set much higher standards than the more common USDA Organic certifications.
If you live in the US and feel inclined to support these causes, you can look for GAP certified meat at Whole Foods, or through Butcher Box, a popular meat delivery subscription service that sources their meats in line with all of the highest standards that we’ve touched on.
Finding Asian Ingredients
Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.
If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:
I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.
These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!
Alternatives to Oyster Sauce
If you're vegetarian or need to stay away from gluten, we have three alternatives for you!
Vegetarian Oyster Sauce
Since oyster sauce is made out of oyster extract, here are some alternatives that have a similar taste without using the actual oyster:
Gluten Free Oyster Sauce
Wok Mei has a gluten-free oyster sauce, but it still contains oyster extract, so it's not vegetarian friendly.
Vegetarian + Gluten Free Oyster Sauce
Unfortunately, we don't know of a vendor that sells an oyster sauce that caters to both dietary restrictions, so you'll need to DIY the sauce.
Mix equal parts gluten free soy sauce and gluten free hoisin sauce. This isn't exactly the same as oyster sauce, but it's pretty close.
In our video, I mentioned that we have an industrial grade infrared thermometer. Ken, my soon-to-be brother-in-law, also an engineer, got one for me for Christmas because he kept watching me ask my dad how hot his wok gets. Thanks Ken!
If you want to nerd out like us, here's a link to get your own: https://amzn.to/3bSkebB