COOK THE DISH:
'When 'Wu Xunqu, chief cfief at Lou Wai Lou, divulged this recipe, he cautioned that it was most but not all of the recipe, since he had a few secret ingredients he wanted to keep to himself, He also insisted on starting with the life of the chicken. This is one of the poultry-cooking secrets of Chinese haute cuisine: the last two weeks of a chicken's life must be spent outdoors, running free.
• At home, however, you may start with a whole chicken, cleaned, and 4-6 whole lotus leaves, soaked 20 minutes in warm water.
• Create 3-4 C of concentrated soup broth from pork bone, beef bone, ham, chicken feet, onion, ginger, meiling soy sauce (its a tiny bit sour).
• When cool, combine with rice wine, starch powder, white pepper, salt, and a little soy. Marinate chicken 30 minutes.
• Remove the chicken to wrap in soaked lotus leaves, first pouring over and inside one cup of the marinade (fortified with extra slivered ham, other cooked meats left from the soup, and, or soaked, slivered mushrooms).
• Follow a layer of lotus with a layer of parchment and then another layer of lotus. Use plastic style baking bags and a foil wrap to create a tight seal.
• Roast at 400 for 1/2 hour, then at 350 for up to 3 1/2 hours, depending on the bird's size and age.
-courtesy Wu Xunqu
READ ABOUT THE DISH IN 'THE LAST CHINESE CHEF'
(see page 129):
"Then the beggar's chicken. It looked at first like a foil-wrapped whole bird, but he undid it, folded back layers of crinkly baking bags, and broke the seal on a tight molded wrap of lotus leaves. A magnificently herbed chicken aroma rushed into the air.
Maggie couldn't wait. She picked up a mouthful of chicken that fell away from the carcass and into her chopsticks at a touch. It was moist and dense with profound flavor, the good nourishment of chicken, first marinated, then spiked with the bits of aromatic vegetable and salt-cured ham which had been stuffed in the cavity and were now all over the bird. Shot through everything was the pungent musk of the lotus leaf.
At once she knew she should write about this place. She should give this recipe, catch the glorious bustle of this restaurant, describe these tall windows looking over the lake and virgin green hills beyond."
From 'The Last Chinese Chef' Copyright © 2007 by Nicole Mones (Houghton Mifflin)
TASTE THE DISH:
One of the most famous Chinese dishes in the world, this is also one of the more elusive. Perhaps the traditional method of first marinating the bird, then wrapping it in lotus leaves, then sealing it in mud before long baking seems too daunting - for not many restaurants actually offer it, at least without ordering ahead.
One exception is Lou Wai Lou, which is one of several places where beggar's chicken may have originated.
Because they produce so many orders each day, they have abandoned the mud-seal technique in favor of successive layers of lotus leaves and modern baking bags.
Lou Wai Lou, No. 30, Gu Shan Rd., Hangzhou, China. (0571) 8796-9023. English menu; little English spoken.