Stone Chicken Report: Where did this come from?
Last night I was invited to dinner @ Manila Garden, which normally is basic cheap Chinese, until you order items out of the ordinary. Which is what the hosts did for one of the dishes. And now I feel compelled to post about it, because I've personally never even heard of this dish before. Does anyone know where this dish originated from (as in whether this is a traditional dish or created here in the US, and if from China, which region)?
Sek Tao Gai (Cantonese literally translated as rock/stone head chicken)
The waitstaff proudly brought out a huge lump of something (about 2.5 ft long x 1.5 across x 1 ft high) on an equally large serving platter -- looked like a hotpocket on steroids. Yes, whatever this was it was encased in bread. The waiter then took 2 huge serving spoons to tear a hole in the top of the hotpocket lump. She peeled a chunk of the bread away to show us what whas inside, and another guest at the table asked if the bread was edible. The response was yes, but u probably don't want to eat it. So some of this bread got passed around for tasting -- the dough was so salty it must've had 10x the normal amount of salt becaus it still looked undercooked, although the outside crust was brittle and had the texture of concrete.
Then the waiter took the huge thing away to be properly plated in the kitchen. What came out looked nothing like the hotpocket for the giant in jack & the beanstalk. The chicken was plated resting on a bed of golden needle flowers & wood ear, with parsley, garlic and ginger mixed in; and all of this was laying on a bed of lotus leaves. Apparently all these ingredients had been wrapped inside the lotus leaves and then the whole thing was encased in the dough and ... baked or steamed??
Well, whatever they did to that thing made amazingly flavorful chicken that was moist and tender -- practically slides down your throat. And the garlic cloves -- YUM. All those flavors cooking together inside the dough. That was definitely the star of the show... the other items we had were pretty basic. S&P pork chops, a seafood & tofu clay pot, gai lan w/ cured meats, scrambled egg w/ shrimp, house-made XO sauce, and probably some other things I've forgotten about.
Sounds like salt-baked chicken. You coat the chicken or whatever with a paste of salt and flour, then bake it. Since the meat's sealed in the ceramic-like case, it steams rather than bakes.
According to Wikipedia, salt-baked chicken is a Hakka dish that is made often in Hong Kong. Sounds yummy. Many chefs use salt and flour to encase something to cook. I've seen it more often in fish rather than chicken, but it makes sense for chicken because you want a lot of salt to give your chicken flavor but you want to keep it moist too. Seems like it'll be tricky knowing that you've cooked the chicken long enough so that it's not undercook, which could be an issue having it wrapped up in so many layers.
The name of the dish, stone head chicken, isn't familiar to me.
Here are a few photos of something that sounds similar. Do they look like what you had?
First, the beggar's chicken at Lily's in Lafayette, before and after the dough crust was hacked away, from our chowdown last December. The dough crust was a substitute for the traditional mud.
And, here's a whole chicken baked in lotus leaves at a dinner banquet at Yank Sing in San Francisco last year. The owner commented that it was a dish traditionally encased in mud and baked.
This was a very 'showey' dish at the Mandarin in Ghirardelli Square..in the good old days...I wonder if they still have it?
I also had my first and best Peking Duck there with translucent pancakes....and let's not forget glaceed bananas for dessert...glazed in sugar syrup and plunged into a bowl of ice water..to create a thin crackly sugar crust on the banana...used to love that place...such a beautiful space too with all the antiques...no one ever mentions it any more....has anyone been there recently???