Recently I reconnected with a recipe I learned to make from a boat maker on the West Marin coast. He was raising his four children alone and, as they reached their teens, they rotated cooking chores, with each of them specializing in a type of cuisine. It made meals varied and interesting. Weekends, as I recall, were negotiable and depended on who was home. Ed’s specialty was Chinese; Master Sauce Chicken and Eggs Foo Young. While the latter was good, I fell in love with Master Sauce Chicken, as the sauce can be reused in a number of different ways. (One of my favorites is to use it over meatloaf instead of ketchup.)
Eventually I stopped making it, though I don’t know why because it’s a great recipe for potlucks and picnics. A couple of months ago when I was in Oakland’s Chinatown, visiting markets and looking at the lacquered ducks hanging in the windows, I was inspired to make this old friend, only to discover that I’d lost the recipe. Thanks to the Internet I found it readily and learned more about it at the same time.
It turns out Master Sauce (also called Master Stock), is the primary stock used for poaching or braising in a multitude of Chinese recipes. It’s primarily used with chicken but also used with pork, duck, pigeon and quail. Additionally, it is used to flavor stir-frys, noodles and other dishes. I also discovered that the chicken can be hung up to dry for the night and then fried the next day. (I haven’t tried this, but it’s an intriguing idea.)
The recipes I found were very similar to the one I used with the exception that many included a cup of Chinese wine, which I don’t remember being in Ed’s recipe. I think it’s really up to you whether you want to add Shaoshing wine, throw in a cup of whatever white or red wine you have around, or to skip it entirely. What you do want to do is to boil and strain the leftover sauce to reuse a time or two as the flavor gets richer over time. And I do recommend using it in baking meatloaf braising brisket or pot roast, or poaching meatballs as the savory sauce bursts with flavor. It also freezes well.
One last comment. If you don’t want to cook an entire chicken, use legs and thighs, or do what I did, which was to cut a chicken in half and freeze the other half. You will need to cut down the cooking time if you do this. I cooked the half chicken for 25 minutes and then allowed it to cool in the sauce.
Master Sauce Chicken
3 1/2 – 4 pounds whole chicken
6 1/3 cups or 1.5 litres water
1 cup or 250ml light or full soy sauce or Tamari
1 cup or 250ml Shaoshing wine (can substitute white or red wine or add 1 additional cup water instead)
5.3 ounces or 150g yellow rock sugar (can substitute brown sugar)
2 sticks of cinnamon
4 star anise
1 Vanilla Bean, slit lengthwise*
1 large knob fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
Remove all visible fat from the chicken and wipe out the cavity with paper towels. Using a pot that will bring sauce halfway up the chicken, bring all the ingredients except the chicken to a boil. Turn down and simmer for 20 minutes. Submerge the chicken in the stock, breast side down and bring back to a boil. Lower the heat and cook at a strong simmer for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and allow to simmer for another 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the chicken cool in the stock.
Once the stock has cooled, remove the chicken. The master sauce should then be strained, boiled, cooled and refrigerated for future use. As the stock ages its flavor will intensify. Add water if necessary to dilute the stock. The chicken is now ready to be used in a salad, or chopped, using a cleaver Chinese-style, and placed decoratively on a serving plate.
If using extract instead of a vanilla bean, use 2 teaspoons extract added after turning heat off and chicken is cooling.