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.