Whether it's an impressive whole steamed fish or a hot pot of endless flavors, preparing a meal for Chinese New Year means going all out. This year being the Year of the Rooster, we've decided to keep things in the family and tap Mister Jiu's in San Francisco for a beautiful lacquered-hen dish. These golden-brown birds, which eventually get stuffed with a Chinese sausage sticky rice, sit overnight in a Shaoxing wine brine, then get lacquered with a rock sugar basting sauce, and served with a sweet and fragrant dark soy sauce to finish.
If you don't have Shaoxing cooking wine at home, a dry sherry is the best substitute. As for the rock sugar, lump or cane sugar is a good alternative. Pro tip: Don't skimp on the dark soy sauce—it's what gives the sauce its true flavor. To serve, break down and slice the stuffed birds before plating with any leftover sticky rice and a side of traditional Chinese greens, like steamed bok choy.
To learn more, read “Wok This Way.”
Sticky Rice-Stuffed Cornish Hens
Recipe adapted from Brandon Jew, Mister Jiu's, San Francisco, CA
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus overnight brining, cooling and resting time
Cook Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, plus overnight brining, cooling and resting time
For the Brine:
8 cups cold water
4 cups Shaoxing cooking wine
¼ cup kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, toasted
2 tablespoons white peppercorns, toasted
2 star anise
2 medium (about 1½ to 2 pounds) cornish hens
For the Sticky Rice Filling:
1 cup sticky rice
¼ cup jasmine rice
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1½ cups (3½ ounces) shiitake mushrooms
⅓ cup Chinese sausage, thinly sliced into rings
8 (2 ounces) jujubes, pitted and minced
¼ cup dried shrimp, rehydrated and minced
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
For the Basting Sauce:
½ cup Shaoxing wine
½ cup oyster sauce
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons rock sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
⅛ teaspoon ginger powder
1 pinch five-spice powder
For the Finishing Sauce:
¼ cup rock sugar
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1½ cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1. Make the brine: In a 4-quart stockpot, combine all the brine ingredients, except the hens, and bring to a boil over high heat. Whisk until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to completely cool.
2. Once the liquid has cooled, place the hens inside the pot and weigh them down with heavy plates or a bowl so they are completely submerged. Place the pot in the refrigerator and brine overnight.
3. Remove the hens from the brine and pat dry. Place on a wire rack that's on top of a sheet pan lined with foil. Let the hens sit in the refrigerator uncovered while making the other components.
4. Make the stuffing: In a medium bowl, combine the rices and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear; set aside for later.
5. In a medium saucepan, heat the peanut oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and green onions, and sweat until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the shiitakes and cook until tender, 5 minutes. Add the Chinese sausage, jujubes and dried shrimp, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rinsed rice mixture and toast in the pan while stirring for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and soy sauce, and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, scrape the bottom to dislodge any grains of rice stuck to the pan, cover with a lid and cook until the rice is completely tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Once the rice is cooked, cool completely.
6. Make the basting sauce: In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally and continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced to a syrup consistency, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
7. While the basting sauce is reducing, make the finishing sauce: In a small saucepan, cook the rock sugar until it is completely melted and reaches a light caramel color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer until the sauce is a thin syrup consistency, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the dark soy sauce and reserve for later.
8. Preheat the oven to 350º. Stuff the crevices of each hen with the chilled sticky rice mixture and tie the legs together with butcher's twine. Brush the hens completely with two-thirds of the cooled basting sauce and place them breast-sides up on the wire rack. Roast the hens for 45 to 50 minutes, baste with the remaining basting sauce and finish in the oven until their internal cooking temperature reaches 165º, 5 to 10 minutes. Let the hens rest for 5 minutes, then move to a serving platter whole or broken down. Serve with the prepared finishing sauce, any leftover sticky rice and steamed vegetables.