Honey Soy Roast Chicken

This Honey Soy Roast Chicken is an adaptation of my late grandmother’s recipe. Ah Mah (which means ‘grandmother’ in her native Teochew dialect) used to prepare a delicious Chinese-style roast chicken by roasting a whole chicken marinated in soy sauce. It was simple, yet delicious.

Ah Mah would sometimes roast a chicken whenever she didn’t feel like cooking a traditional three-course Chinese dinner. But the same amount of love and care would go into its preparation. She would keep a close watch over the chicken as it baked, removing it every so often from the oven to baste it with the pan juices and more soy sauce. This, she explained, would keep the chicken moist and intensify its flavour.

Although Ah Mah’s roast chicken was one of my favourite dishes, I’d never made it myself since she passed away in 2007. This was because I now live alone and my meals these days are simple one-pot affairs. Cooking an entire chicken for one? More leftovers than I’d like to deal with.

Recently, I happened to be at the markets on closing day. An hour before the markets close, the vendors begin slashing their prices to clear their stock, and it’s a great time to pick up meats at good prices. On that day, a poultry seller was selling the last of her chickens for five dollars each.

FIVE BUCKS. For a whole chicken. How could I resist? While the chickens weren’t free-range, they were a lot fresher than the ones I normally see in supermarkets. So I bought one, thinking that it was finally time to try out Ah Mah’s roast chicken recipe for myself.

I decided that I’d jazz up the recipe slightly by adding some honey to the soy sauce marinade. Light (regular) soy sauce is used to marinate the chicken meat overnight, while the more intensely-flavoured dark soy sauce is used on the skin. (For those unfamiliar with dark soy sauce, it is thicker than regular soy sauce, with a consistency resembling that of caramel or molasses).

I also used a tip I picked up from Elise at Simply Recipes, roasting the chicken breast-side down. At the same time, I did away with using a roasting rack altogether (because I don’t have one).

The result was heavenly. The roast chicken came out tender, moist and succulent. Even the breast meat was tender, having been at the bottom of the baking dish soaking up all the pan juices. Meanwhile the honey and soy sauce lent an exquisite flavour to the chicken.

Each bite I took was -dare I say it?- an orgasmic experience. Or, if that description bothers you, think of the judges on Iron Chef swooning as they taste the contestants’ entries. It was that delicious.

And the leftovers problem? I had to stop myself from eating the entire chicken in one sitting, so that I would have leftovers to pack for the next day’s lunch. So yes, I was very satisfied with the result and it was well worth the effort.

I think my Ah Mah would have liked this dish.

Honey Soy Roast Chicken

4 to 6 servings, as a main

1 whole chicken
2 tbsp sea or rock salt
3 tbsp light soy sauce

For the marinade:
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese rice wine or sake
1 tbsp honey

Clean the chicken and remove the neck and giblets if it hasn’t already been done at the butcher’s. Wash and rinse the chicken well, including the cavity. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a large bowl, rub the chicken all over with the salt and brush the skin with the soy sauce. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Cover and leave to refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

Mix the marinade ingredients together and bring to a boil in a saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and leave to cool completely.

Remove chicken from the refrigerator and baste with half of the prepared marinade. Place the chicken breast-side down in a baking dish or roasting pan (do not use a roasting rack). Bake in the preheated oven for 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the bird. Baste the chicken with the remaining marinade and pan drippings every 15-20 minutes until the chicken is golden brown and tender. Test occasionally to check if the chicken is done. (The chicken is cooked if the juices run clear when a skewer is inserted into a thigh).

When cooked, remove chicken from the oven and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. The chicken can also be chopped, Chinese-style, into serving pieces (as pictured above). Stir the pan juices and serve spooned over the chicken.

17 thoughts on “Honey Soy Roast Chicken”

  1. I am trying this tonight. Hope it will be as orgasmic as you say as I have invited the in-laws to dine with the family.

  2. I made this for dinner last night. I did a little thing different as I had found out I had no more rice wine. Instead I added Japanese plum sake and 1 tbs of plum sauce and it came out excellent! It even impressed my wife (believe me, she is a hard one to please!) This is a simple yet absolutely awesome recipe and I would like to thank you heaps for taking the time to post it. a 10/10 from me.

    Thanks again.


  3. Hi Douglas, I’m really glad to hear you liked the recipe and that it met with your wife’s approval! Thanks for taking the time to leave your feedback.

  4. What can you use if you don’t have sake or rice wine? as i have neither of these and would like to use this recipe tomorrow night

  5. Hi Ruth, if you don’t have sake or rice wine, you can simply leave it out and the recipe should still turn out OK.

  6. Hi
    Trying this tonight apart from instructions do you have any tips, I would say I’m compatont but cook sporadically.
    also using a fan oven

  7. Hmm, you may need to adjust the cooking time slightly depending on the size of the chicken. I’d suggest checking on the chicken regularly until it’s cooked to prevent over/undercooking. Good luck- I hope it turns out OK!

  8. I am trying this tonight although I haven’t been able to leave it overnight! Wish me luck!

  9. Hi ronita, I haven’t tried using white wine vinegar but I think it could work as a substitute for the rice wine. I’d add some extra sugar to balance out the acidity. Let me know how it goes- cooking is all about experimenting!

  10. Hey Gilly! :) :)
    Thank you for the reply!! Well I bought a whole chicken today and marinated this baby with Soya Sauce, Oyster Sauce, Honey, Ginger paste, 10 cloves of fresh chopped garlic, white whine vinegar, rough chopped onions, garlic powder, fresh black pepper oh and rooster chili sauce ( just a teaspoon). I tried the marinade (before marinating the chicky of course) and it was mouth wateringly delish! I separated the skin and flesh and stuffed the marinade onion goodness in there. I have been marinating for a few hours now and turned the bird over and tomorrow I will cook breast side down (which I haven’t done before) so we will see how it turns out! I wish I could upload pics on here!! What inspired me was the ever so succulent BBQ duck that I buy from T&T market here (I’m from van, BC (canada) but dared to try my own style asian roast bird so wish me luck I will post a reveiw on how it turned out! Thanks for your recipe I appreciate it a lot! My 10 year old can’t wait till I shove this birdy in the oven! Lol oh and also I searched up and down for Hoisen and couldn’t find it at the store I was at ( I’m sure I could have found it at the other store but googled hoisen substitutes and found it was the sugar I would need to add to sub). Thanks again gonna post when this birdy is done! :o)

  11. Sounds delicious – I’m sure it’ll taste great! PS- starting a food blog is a great way to post pics of your creations! :)

  12. Yes! You are right – I should try starting a food blog :)
    The birdy came out DELISH my 10 year old love love loved it! You’re so right its all about expirimenting and the white wine vinegar worked as a perfect substitiute! Thanks for the awesome recipe I was looking for something home made that was similar to my bbq roast duck from T n T and this was PERFECT minus all the excess fat! Please keep your recipes comin!!
    Also I want to add that I turned the chicken over while cooking and basted about 3-4 times :)

  13. Wonderful, I’m so glad to hear it went well! I’ll definitely be posting more recipes in future, now to find the time to post! 😛

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