Soy Sauce Chicken ("Si Yau Kai")

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Editorial: I have done a major rewrite of the recipe.

Si Yau Kai. This is a well-loved Cantonese dish. It's a traditional recipe which has been passed down through many generations.

Someone in your line of grandmas or aunties must have their own version of this. It is not difficult to make and the end-result is satisfying. Accompanied by the right condiments, it can be a complete meal in itself.

For this post, I will teach you to cook using something which is found in every Asian home - the humble rice cooker. It is easy to use and between the "cook" and "warm" setting, you can easily control the temperature range. You need a thermometer to measure the temp of the sauce.  

This is how I set up my rice cooker
Similar to Hainanese Chicken Rice, it is about gently poaching the chicken. My favourite method is to use the Sous Vide Magic to control the rice cooker. The chicken do not need to be vacuum pack. The advantage of using SVM for this is you don't need to pay as much attention to the cooking process. 

I have also used the Pressure Cooker. One problem is that the skin will break because of the high heat. And the meat tends to have a 'tense' compact texture.

What type of chicken should you use? I have learned a lot about them of late and how they get from the farm to the table. Will say a lot more about this in another post. For now, just get one which is flavourful. Kampung Chicken works very well for this dish. Don't buy the scrawny ones. The fresher ones are slaughtered on the same day. I like those from NTUC as they are fresh and meatier. The slaughter date is indicated.

Using a good brand of soy sauce is important. I have written a post about sauces here. Use premium or superior quality ones as they are less salty and more fragant.  Though more expensive, remember that you are not throwing away your sauce after cooking. You can "roll" it, something akin to the "thousand-day sauce" used in hawker stalls. If you are using your sauce to cook a few times, it makes sense to use quality ones. 

As for aromatics, there are many options. Think white peppercorn, cinnamom bark, start aniseed for a start. If you can get your hands on them, dried orange peel and liqourice sticks ("ganchao") will add a fruity and unique fragrance. I will get the photos of these on this post later.

Rock sugar is of course necessary though I think gula melaka will work very well too.  

Soy Sauce Chicken ("Si Yau Kai") Recipe   

Serves 4-6

1 Chicken (about 1.5 kg)
Two bowls of light soy sauce
Half a bowl of thick dark soy sauce
Dashes of White Pepper
One bowl of Rock Sugar
2-3 stalks of Spring Onions, Cut into 1-2 inch lengths
2-3 inch ginger, lightly pounded
20 cloves of garlic, lightly bruised (if you like garlic, by all means, use more)
Aromatics: 2-3 Star Aniseed, 1 Cinnamon Stick
Herbs: Scallions, cilantro stem and roots
3 bowls of water
Optional - 3 lemon peels, 2 liquorice sticks (ganchao)

Garnishing: Cilantro and Spring Onions
Accompaniment: Boiled eggs, sliced cucumber, Bean Curd (Tau Kwa)
Chilli sauce: Fresh Chillies, Lime, Sugar, and a bit of oil

Note: I am suggesting that you are make more sauce then you need as this means you do not need to turn the chicken around and minimise the chance of tearing the skin. You want to poach the whole chicken at one go. The leftover sauce can be reused again.

  1. Heat up your rice cooker or pot.
  2. Add some oils and dump the aromatics, herbs and garlic bulbs in.  Fry for about 2 minutes till fragrant (i.e you smell something nice :)).
  3. Add the sauces and rock sugar. Simmer for about half an hour to develop the flavours.
  4. Once the sauce is done, put the chicken in. Add water to ensure the chicken is floating in the pot. You may need to use a wire rack to push the chicken in. If it is not in contact with the sides, the skin will not break. 
  5. If you are using a normal pot, control the fire. Put in on a very low simmer. I prefer to use the rice cooker because the warm function holds the temperature well. Cook the chicken within the range of 72 to 80°C for 90 minutes. If you use too high a heat and boil the chicken constantly, the meat will release more juices resulting in drier meat. And of course the skin will tear. The first sign that the chicken is overcook is torn skin. I use a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Switch the rice cooker to cooking mode, letting the temp hit about 78C and then put it on warm mode. Once it go down to 72C, switch to cooking mode. I am sure you can get the idea. Depending on the types of pot you have, you can of course experiment various ways of cooking the chicken within the temp range. Thermal Pots are also good for this. If the chicken is small, an hour will work.
  6. After it is done, take the chicken out and let it rest till it comes down to room temp. At this stage, it is still gently cooking inside. To test whether the chicken is cook, stick something sharp into the thigh meat. If the juice is clear, it is done. If pink, poach some more. It is up to your personal preference. Some like the thigh meat pink. 
  7. Remove some of the sauce and cook it further in another pot., You may want to make it sweeter. Thicken it with some corn flour. You may need to strain the finished to separate out the residual bits. 
  8. Chop the chicken. This is an art in itself. After all the careful cooking to keep the skin perfect, you don't want to mess it up for the dining table. Use a sharp cleaver (ie. sharpen it!). Cut off the thighs and wings first. Separate to larger pieces, smash lightly and do a quick cleaver chop. Hmm...I will show you on to do this in another post as visuals will be more helpful. You can also google and there are many cooks out there who will demo on how to chop up a chicken.   
I am using NTUC's Kampung Chicken here
The leftover sauce can be reused  for another lot of chicken. I boil the eggs alongside the chicken (you do not need boiling temperature to make hard boiled eggs!). Peel the eggs and dump them back to the sauce so that they get a nice brown color. As for the Tau Kwa, they do impart a sour taste if left too long in the sauce. I prefer to separate out a portion of the sauce and braise them separately.

The great thing about this dish is after you have made the sauce, it can be reused again. The second time round will be easier as the sauce is well flavoured and good to go to serve a second tour of duty. You can also use the sauce to braise pork belly or trotters. Boil the sauce first before you keep it in the fridge.  

Serve with steamed rice, the condiments on the side and add the rest of the cilantro leaves on the plated chicken pieces.The whole cilantro is used - nothing is thrown away.You can also add cucumber, the faithful companion to this dish. And of course some fried shallots will be good too. Enjoy.  

Remember, it is important that the chicken is not overcooked. Poach gently...slow and low. If you have a Sous Vide appliance, use it and it is the most convenient way for precision temp control. If not , using the rice cooker alone works well too. 

Tell me if this recipe works for you.

Some dreamy sides..

This is another lot I cooked recently using large size white broiler chicken.

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  1. Hi ,
    Came over via ieatishootipost
    Enjoying your posts ! :)

  2. Hello!! Is there an alternative to the pressure cooker? I don't have one but I would love to try the recipe out. It looks soooo good!!

    1. New version of Instant Pot has slow cook or saute function, plus get the right temp via Less - Normal - More options. Just keep press the choice button and it will jump from Less to Normal ... to avoid skin split, before cooking in soy sauce, I will put the chicken in boiling water for 30 sec to 1 min so skin tightens.

    2. Just checked the manual. Non-Pressure Cooking Program:
      Keep warm function: 63-78C (145-172F)
      Slow Cook function: Less mode: 82-87.8C (180-190F)
      Forget Saute function, temp is too high.

  3. If you are using an alternative to the pressure cooker, as I did mentioned in the post, you could refer  to some other site such as here or here. Give it a try. This is a staple dish which is worthwhile making. You may not get it perfect the first time, but you will get better as you understand how your own pot works, size etc. In fact, if you are starting out, using thigh pieces is easier as the skin hold better. The recipe at Kitchen Kungfu extend the use of the sauce to Tau Kawa and Boiled eggs, which makes the meal more complete and gives you  more reasons to make this dish. Happy cooking.

  4. Will plan a trip down to Singapore to try all your dishes


  5. Hi Terry,
    I'm so glad you are sharing your mum's recipes. Her cooking skills were legendary. And you are following in her footsteps very nicely. Do you have a recipe for the roast chicken which some chicken rice stalls sell? My husband can't stand the white boiled chicken and only enjoys the roasted type (not the braised soya sauce chicken).


  6. This looks really yummy! I must try it soon! Can I use sugar instead of rock sugar?

    I'm also craving for Hainanese Roast Chicken Rice but can't find any in Tokyo where I live now. If you have the recipe please share. I like all your recipes and the way you write them in details with some humour! Very entertaining blog.


  7. Christina - Forgot to reply your comment, Tks for the compliment. Which Christina is this?

    Jess - I have not work on Roast Chicken rice yet but will do soon one day. A bit of inertia given how widely available and cheap this dish is over here :)

  8. Hi, I found your recipe and blog through a google search, and I am so glad that I did! I used my pressure cooker for the first time today, and the dish came out fantastic! I used it with chicken thighs, substituted rock sugar with splenda. I will post up the dish, with a link back to yours! Thank you for sharing this goodness! :)

  9. Hi,
    What is rose wine? Can I substitute with hua tiao wine? And what is coriander?

    Thanks for the recipe.

  10. Ji Ji

    hua tiao wine is also good. coriander...also called cilantro and sometimes chinese parsley

  11. Hi,! It looks really delicious! Had tried making your char siew andhar lok for gathering ytd and received many praises from friends! Thx a lot for posting these wonderful recipes. Btw, for the bowl listed in this recipe, does it refers to rice bowl which is smaller or soup bowl? Thx again!


  12. Jenny- either will be fine. As there are too many variables involve, the best is to make sure u taste it first before u pour into the pot. This will be yr sauce (plus the chicken 'essence') after it is cooked, and so adjust sweetness, saltiness etc according to yr liking. Basically, the more water in your pot to float the bird, the easier to cook chicken wo breaking the skin.

  13. I chanced on your blog while googling about rose wine; the si yau kai looks great! I am going to bookmark your blog for recipes to try. Thank you so much for sharing. I have a question, where do you buy rose wine in Singapore? I have had very little luck finding it.

    1. I buy my Rose wine from Sheng Shiong supermarts

  14. Do you cover the lid of the rice cooker?


  15. Hi, I tried cooking your soy sauce chicken over the last two days, once with NTUC kampong chicken and the next day with Sakura whole chicken. As recommended by you, the kampong chicken won hands down with the family. Thanks! The Sakura chicken turned out rather `powdery' in texture. May I ask how long you cooked your large size chickens for (as featured in your last photo)? With the Sakura chicken, I had to cook it for 2 and a half hours (and there were still a bit of red juices at a few joints). I was careful and diligent with temperature control.

    Thank you once again. Your recipes never fail to put me on the pedestal with my family.

    Best wishes,
    Seok Hui

    1. I am glad your family is please with what you came out with.

      Size of chicken, time and temp are all variable factors. Work out what is best for you. If you refer not to see any red, try 78C for 2 hours for a large bird of 1.6-2.0 kg.

      The skin of the Kampung chicken is thicker and meat more flavorful. I find it to be best for Si Yau Kai.

  16. Just found your blog, great recipes and absolutely gorgeous photos! My family loves si yau kai, my mum just put a whole chicken and 1 cup of soy sauce, and just gently boil. Even in this simple way the chicken taste absolutely divine. I cant wait to try your full monty recipe. Thanks for being so detailed about it. Really helps.

    1. Most welcome. A good soy sauce alone can make a good SYK. Something we must not forget as we seek to improve the sauce.

  17. Hi - thanks for a wonderful recipe. I tried it a few weeks ago and it turned out very well. I now have the "master stock" which means I can keep replicating your wonderful recipe... only thing is how will I know how much sauces to add... do I just add more soya sauce? What about the spices? Your advice is very much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  18. Hi

    I am a big fan of si yau kai, have been trying to look for recipe and finally found yours. May I ask what brand of thick soy suace you used?

    Thanks so much
    Jenny Tay

  19. I uses a few brands, Kwong Who Hing, Kwong Cheong Thye - get the superior ones. I also use some M'sian ones. A good dark sauce should not taste bitter. I use for both dipping and cooking.

    As light soy sauce is important for this dish, I am more particular re what I use. Get one that is fragrant and less salty. I prefer M'sians one as they are cheaper, as you tend to use a lot for cooking. The local Kwong Woh Hing superior brand is very good but more expensive.

    This post contains more info.

  20. Did you use normal rice bowl? For me,one bowl is too much for a chicken.Half a bowl will be just right.

    I put the Orchid brand light soya sauce and Kwong Woh Hing dark soya sauce.The braised sauce was good.

    Next,I going try to put pig trotter.

    Thanks for your guide on the varies sauce.^_^

  21. Kelvin - if you use superior quality Soy Sauce, which is less salty, you can add more.

  22. Hi, came upon yr food blog as recommended by Malaysian blogspot! Am glad I did! Have been uninspired to cook for awhile since the children left home....but after looking at your dishes n the details that went into it, I am again inspired to cook delicious meals once much thought has gone into your blog...truly appreciate your generosity in sharing these recipes with us..may God continue to bless you with more inspiration to share with the way, I have already done your tau yew bak n now, the's really good!

    Jackie Yap

  23. Can you do this in a crock pot on medium heat for 2hours ?

  24. Hi. May i ask when u put in rock sugar ?