Red-Cooked ("Master Sauce") Chicken
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 green onions, halved and crushed
  • 2 pods star anise and 1/2 cinnamon stick, or 1 teaspoon
  • Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 strip dried orange peel (optional — see note)
  • 1 whole chicken, 4 to 5 pounds
Time Estimates

Prep time: 25 min  

Cook time: 2 hrs  

Total time: 2 hrs 25 min  


  1. Combine the liquids and seasonings in a deep covered casserole (hold back some of the water if you are making the dish for the first time and are not sure of the capacity of your pot). Bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, remove the excess fat and the kidneys from the chicken, rinse well inside and out, and pat dry.
  2. When the liquid is nearly boiling, carefully lower the chicken into the pot, breast side up. If the liquid does not cover the chicken, add more hot water (as much as you can without overflowing the pot). While the liquid comes back to a boil, ladle it over any exposed skin to provide even coloring. Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot, and simmer 50 minutes to an hour, uncovering the pot a few times to baste the exposed skin with the sauce. For the best flavor, turn off the heat and let the chicken steep another half hour to 2 hours, basting occasionally.
  3. To serve, either lift the chicken out of the pot with a spoon inserted in the cavity and another outside (be careful not to tear the skin) or pour off the sauce into a bowl. Carve the chicken Western style or chop it through the bone Chinese style, as you like. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.
  4. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve and freeze it for the next time. Discard the fat before thawing and refresh the flavors each time you use it with 1/2 cup fresh soy sauce and half of the other flavoring ingredients.


Makes 4 to 6 servings

Good to know

The "master sauce" refers to the rich soy sauce broth left over from cooking the bird, which can be used again and again — just replenish the seasonings — and gets better each time.

What beer should I drink with this?

Amber Ale


1. Traditionalists insist on a Chinese clay pot for this kind of dish, but I have always used my 3 1/2-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven, which is the perfect size for a robust 4-pound-plus Chinatown chicken.

2. There is no need to go out shopping for dried orange peel; next time you eat an orange or tangerine (preferably organic or at least unsprayed), simply scrape the white pith off the inside of the pieces of peel, then let the strips dry on a sunny windowsill for a few days until leathery before storing them in a jar in the pantry.


Red-Cooked Pork: A pork shoulder roast, including the cut called Boston butt even though it comes from the shoulder, is also delicious red-cooked. You could use the same master sauce as the chicken, but I prefer to keep them separate and season them a little differently, replacing the star anise, cinnamon, and orange peel with 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns. Leftovers will keep for the better part of a week in the refrigerator and are good as a last-minute addition to vegetable stir-fry dishes, noodle dishes, or fried rice. 

The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook 

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From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.

Photo: Terry Davis/Citizen Image