Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Feb 16, 2013 12:34 PM

Mystery Chinese Spice Packet

Many years ago, I worked in an eyeglass shop with a Chinese girl named Nancy. We were in the breakroom when she began heating up her lunch in the microwave. The room filled with the most wonderful aroma I had ever smelled. When I asked her what it was, she said, "Just some leftover chicken my mom made last night". She gave me some. When I took the first bite, it was like that scene in "Ratatouille" when the food critic tasted Remy's dish for the first time.

I felt like that flavor represented my entire warm, cozy childhood. I asked her for the recipe. She said she'd ask her mom. A few days later, she told me to bring the chicken to a boil in water and soy sauce for 10 minutes, then, remove the pot from heat and allow it to sit and cool for 1 hour. Then sautee some mushrooms in oil and pour them over the cut up chicken. She handed me some whole spices tied up in cheesecloth with a string. She said, "Put this into the water as well". Since that time, I have not been able to find out what these spices were. Soon after that, Nancy quit and took a different job. I do not think it was 5 spice. Because I couldn't smell cinnamon, and I haven't been able to recreate the flavor with 5 spice. I know there were peppercorns, but that's all I remember. Anyone have any ideas? I'm desperate to find out what those spices were.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. <I felt like that flavor represented my entire warm, cozy childhood>

    Marijuana or 滷汁(Marinade) sauce, but it could be a chicken sauce too. Too many possibilities.

    6 Replies
      1. re: TX_Mommy

        I am thinking possibly something like this:

        for 滷汁

        Unfortunately, there are just too many Chinese spice/herb mixture for braising chicken.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Soy braised chicken? My mom makes her own spice packet for it (which includes star anise ..and other mysterious ingredients, but it really is one of those things that every cook have their own variation), she usually use it for braising ox tongue and eggs. And it's something she did a huge batch of ahead of time.

          You can also get the sauce in a bottle..I think Lee Kum Kee makes one.

          And there are similar soy chicken wing recipes..without the spice packet..which doesn't sound like what you are looking for though. It was a pretty common dinner dish for me growing up. Below is a recipe I found online:

          1. re: gnomatic

            Right. I was also thinking along the Lee Kum Kee line too since it has a wide and popular selection. I was thinking that either it can be the Soy Chicken Sauce (Chicken Marinate 豉油雞汁):


            the so called Chinese Marinate (滷水汁):


            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              I wish I could read Chinese :-( My family is Cantonese, and we call (or pronounced approximately in my crappy Cantonese) it "no shoun" + whatever it's in it (i.e. egg, chicken , tongue).
              or maybe this one (or is it the same as the ones you mention..but by a slightly different name in Chinese ..the chinese characters are too tiny for me to match with the ones you mentioned).

              1. re: gnomatic

                <we call (or pronounced approximately in my crappy Cantonese) it "no shoun">

                Yes, "no shoun" is often used for (lengthy) boil eggs, chicken, tongue...etc. "No Shoun" are 滷水, which are translated to "Chinese marinate" by LKK (by the way, this is not a universal translation):


                or a better view, this one:


                and of course if you search with google images, you get these familiar photos:


                The link you have above is ironically a Chinese take on a Swiss sauce. Its direct translation is more or less: Herbal Swiss Sauce. I have never tried this one.

    1. Do you think it could be the same spices as used in Pho? Because I know we put the spices in a cheesecloth for the ones in Pho which does have the cinnamon, star anise and a couple other ones.

      1 Reply
      1. re: vttp926

        Could have been. I'll try them, minus the cinnamon.

      2. Probably some combo of star anise, ginger, allspice, cloves and fennel seeds.

        2 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            Which is pretty much 5 spice mix (less the cinnamon), and also very similar to the seasonings in Pho (which might include those plus cardamon and coriander, perhaps).

          2. Was it more herbal flavored? There are some packets of dried herbs for specific purposes in Chinese markets, including some which are frequently used for cooking chicken.

            Did the herbs you had look anything like the ones pictured here?

            1. Spicy Bake Mix. I "marinate" chicken overnight and then steam the chicken or you can put it in your rice cooker with a bit of water and cook it in there...keeps juices in.

              I have a box called Ideal Spicy Bake Mix.

              Another one shown here:


              3 Replies
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I use it for steaming/rice cooker whole chicken. Take the oil and make Hainan chicken.

                  1. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                    Streaming work. Baking work too.

                    I have not had the real salt baked chicken for a long time since childhood. There was a guy who sells authentic salt baked chicken on the street, and I remember it with the fondest memory. Today, people advertised Salt Baked Chicken 鹽焗雞, but almost all of them are Salt Water Chicken 鹽水雞.

                    This is an article if you can read Chinese:

                    Salt Baked Chicken are warped with a special paper and slow cooked with salt all around it. See photo 7-12