Qi guo ji, which means steam-pot chicken, is from Yunnan Province. What’s so special is that the soup is served in a qi guo, a ceramic container with a tapered cone (shaped like a chimney) in the middle. The pot is then set on top of a large saucepan over boiling water. After the ingredients – Chicken, dried dates, ginger, spring onion, and a bit of rice wine but no water – are put in the pot, steam will travel through the chimney into the pot and condense under the lid, then fall into the pot. The cooking process results in a very clear broth while the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. It’s reckoned that locals came up with the idea of cooking the food in a qi guo because much of the province is on a plateau about 2,000 meters above sea level, and the altitude affects the boiling point of water. Steam, however, is not affected.
Steam Pot Chicken first became popular in southern Yunnan Province during a visit to the region by Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799). Legend has it that the dish was created by Yang Li, a cook from Fudeju Restaurant in Jian’an Prefecture. The local magistrate launched a competition among chefs to create a delicacy to serve the visiting emperor. The selected dish would win 50 taels of silver. Yang’s family was destitute; his mother was sick and bedridden. Yang decided to enter the competition and integrated hot pot with steaming to create a new method, steam pot cooking.
A steam pot is made of red clay and looks like an earthenware basin with a lid. In the center of the pot is a steam nozzle. Meat, herbs, and other ingredients are put into the pot to steam overheat. Kitchen paper or paste is used to create a tight seal between the lid and the pot. The difference between this and other steaming methods lies in the fact that no water is added to steam the food. The resulting broth comes from the meat and other ingredients and, therefore, is rich in nutrients. The chicken can be marinated before steaming, and excess water and blood should be completely drained, so as not to spoil the flavor.
The dish became popular in Southern Yunnan during the Qing Dynasty. According to local folklore, in Jianshui, a city famous for pottery production, a craftsman named Yang Li invented a unique steaming pot with a small chimney in the middle. The chimney helps circulate the steam inside the pot, cooking the chicken while sealing the flavors inside. Many reckon it is the design of the pot that gives the intense flavor of the broth. Interestingly, Chinese don’t recommend drinking chicken soup during a cold, because the chicken is said to trap the illness inside the body.
Reference: Week In China
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