Beggar’s Chicken

In Chinese, Beggar’s Chicken is called “叫化鸡” (Jiào huā jī). Made with a whole chicken, the bird is marinated, seasoned, and then stuffed, after which it is wrapped in lotus leaves, then coated in clay, and finally baked. The best part is that when it has finished cooking, you take a hammer and crack the clay to reveal a perfectly cooked chicken inside. There are various origin stories for Beggar’s Chicken, but the recipe is widely believed to be more than two thousand years old, originating in Hangzhou, China. Since it is such a popular dish in China, there are many variations, but I decided to use Cecilia Chiang’s recipe from her book ‘The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey From Beijing to San Francisco‘. (Amazon affiliate link). I did change a few of the ingredients and steps to make it feel a little bit more authentic.

Cracked clay wrapped chicken.

Beggar’s Chicken

Baggar's chicken is a Chinese dish of a whole chicken seasoned and wrapped in clay and baked. The hard baked shell is cracked open with a hammer to reveal a perfected cooked chicken.
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Prep Time 1 hr 30 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs
Brining 3 hrs
Total Time 7 hrs 30 mins
Course Dinner, holiday, Main Course
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 6
Calories 676 kcal

Equipment

  • oven

Ingredients
 
 

Brine

  • 3 ½ lb. whole chicken
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 C. Kosher salt 

Marinade

  • 1 tsp. 5-spice powder
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. unrefined sugar
  • 2 tsp. oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1 tbsp. mushroom sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp. dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. xiao shing wine

Stuffing

  • 1/2 C. sliced water chestnuts
  • 1/2 C. sliced bamboo shoots
  • 1  bunch of green onions, cut into 2” lengths
  • 5 slices peeled fresh ginger
  • 11 small dried Shiitake mushrooms Reconstitute in hot water for 15-20 minutes, drain from soaking water & trim stalks
  • 1/4 C. ham sliced into ½”x 2” lengths

Wrapping the chicken

  • 3 dried lotus leaves
  • 2 sheets of newspaper
  • 10 lbs. air-dry clay

Dipping Sauce

  • 1/4 C. chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp. regular soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp. unrefined sugar
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. corn starch
  • 1 tbsp. water

Instructions
 

  • Brine
  • To 1 gallon of water in a large pot add 1 c. of Kosher salt. 
  • Add your chicken and brine for 3 hours.
    Placing a raw chicken into a pot of water.
  • Take the chicken out of the brine and use paper towels to pat the chicken dry.

Marinade

  • In a large bowl, add 5-spice powder, sesame oil, sugar, oyster sauce, soy sauce, water, mushroom sauce, dark soy sauce, xiao shing wine. Use a whisk to combine.
  • Add chicken and turn to coat. Make sure to get the marinade into the chicken cavity as well.

Stuffing

  • In a large bowl add all of the stuffing ingredients and mix well.
  • Take the marinated chicken and stuff the cavity tightly with the stuffing.
    A raw chicken stuffed with green onions and bamboo shoots.
  • Truss the bird with butcher’s twine to keep the stuffing mixture from falling out.

Preparing the Lotus Leaves

  • Separate 3 lotus leaves and place them into a stoppered sink. 
  • Cover them with hot tap water and allow them to soak for 15-20 minutes.
  • Dry the leaves of excess water with a towel.

Wrapping the Chicken in Clay

  • On the counter top, arrange the lotus leaves into a triangle pattern.  Make sure the leaves overlap.
    Seasoned chicken in middle of a lotus leaf.
  • Place the chicken in the center of the triangle and fold the edges over forming a tight package.
  • Use butcher’s twine to secure the leaves around the chicken.
    Chicken wrapped in lotus leaves with twine.
  • Wrap the entire package in 2 sheets of newspaper.
  • Next cover the newspaper with a ¼” thick layer of clay, taking care to seal any cracks.
  • Use the tips of your fingers to create decorative furrows in the clay.
    Clay wrapped chicken before being baked.
  • Place the clay wrapped chicken on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 450˚F oven for 1 hour. 
  • Reduce the temperature to 350˚F and bake for an additional 2-3 hours.

Removing the Chicken from the Clay

  • Use a mallet to break the hardened clay. 
  • Remove the clay to reveal the newspaper, peeling back to get to the lotus leaves. 
  • Use a pair of kitchen shears to cup open the lotus leaves.
  • Serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce

  • In a saucepan combine the chicken broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and sesame oil. 
  • Bring to a simmer.
  • In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water.
  • Add the cornstarch slurry to the sauce and boil until thickened. 
  • Serve with chicken.

Notes

Nutrition

Calories: 676kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 53gFat: 45gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 205mgSodium: 1141mgPotassium: 643mgFiber: 1gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 376IUVitamin C: 6mgCalcium: 43mgIron: 3mg
Keyword baked in clay, chicken, Chinese food, whole chicken
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Beggar's chicken with cracked clay shell.

How Does it Taste?

The first thing you will notice when you bite into it is the tenderness — after baking for three hours in the clay, the bird has become super moist. There’s a good touch of five-spice flavor from our marinade, which our sesame-soy sauce echoes nicely.

The stuffing, which consists of ham, bamboo shoots, onions and shiitake mushrooms has a nice, smoky flavor, the shiitake mushrooms, for me, being the star of the show.

You could add a little additional salt if you like. And I think the dish would be equally delicious served over rice.

Brown sauce spooned on to a serving of beggar's chicken.

When Would I Ever make This Dish?

Beggars’ Chicken is a dramatic, show-stopping dish that would be really fun to present to a group of people. You could even have one of your guests take the mallet and crack open the chicken. 

You do have to invest a little bit of time, and you probably have to search for some of the ingredients such as the lotus leaves, but it is definitely well worth it. And while I harvested my own clay from a site nearby my house, I know most people are not going to do that.

Where Can I Find Clay?

If you’re trying to recreate an experience, you could harvest your own. You can find clay deposits near streams or rivers. Our area used to have several brick-making sites, so clay is relatively easy to find.

Removing excess water from clay in a cloth bag.
Pouring clay slurry through wire mesh.

Or you could just use air dry clay, available at your local art supply store. 

Whatever you do, I highly recommend this recipe: it’s not only fun, but it’s tasty too!

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