On a walk to the water I imagined a Chinese Junk in the bay, and told myself a story about a journey long ago from the other side of the ocean. I imagined the welcome the subjects of the Song Dynasty would have received from the natives, and how the sailors from here and there would have compared their mighty ships.
I learned that “junks” (apparently from the Malay djong) are ancient Chinese vessels that evolved over time to endure the typhoons of the South China Sea. They became essential to the outward-looking Song Dynasty, which increased overseas trade after a long period of national unrest. In the 15th century, the huge boats were built with a mighty hull supported by bulkheads and an innovative rudder also serving as a keel. It is believed the largest boats had nearly 60 cabins for merchants and sailors. Marco Polo was impressed by the junks’ multiple masts in the times of Kublai Khan.
Then I thought about old photographs I’d seen from the 1930s and 40s of Chinese restaurants that were once on Commercial Street
Then I bought a beautiful little chicken from Perry’s Liquor, and made this dish, which is not exactly authentic I suppose, but mighty delicious.
Loveland Junk Chicken
1 best quality chicken, 2 to 3 pounds 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons peanut oil 1 large onion, peeled and chopped in 1/2–inch pieces 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and quartered lengthwise large knob fresh ginger, about 2”, peeled and slivered 2 star anise juice and rind of 1 large lemon 1 cup soy sauce, preferably dark ½ cup blackstrap molasses ½ cup honey 2 sugar cubes or 1 teaspoon 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons black pepper 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch boiling water
Strip the rind, but not the pith, of a large lemon. Juice the lemon and put it in a glass bowl with the soy sauce, molasses, honey, sugar and boiling water. Stir to combine and set aside. Rinse the chicken well inside and out with warm running water, and dry thoroughly. This is important. Separate the onion pieces so they cooking quickly. Melt the butter and oil in a heavy Dutch oven or oven-friendly clay pot with a lid over medium heat. Ad the onion, garlic, ginger, star anise and lemon rind (in strips, not grated), salt, pepper, and sauté together over low heat until the onions are glossy and just translucent, and everything is fragrant. Raise the heat to medium, spread the chopped bits loosely to the sides of the plan, and lay the chicken in the seasoned fat, resting it on one breast. Leave it to cook undisturbed for about 5 minutes, watching the heat so the butter doesn’t burn. Turn on to the next breast (put a soupspoon into the cavity and a smaller one into the neck, lift and turn gently.) The browned skin should release easily from the pan. Now brown the bottom and ends of the chicken, using the spoons for support when needed. Be patient about browning the chicken, about 10 minutes, lowering the heat as needed. (Don’t worry if the onions burn a bit, just don’t char anything.) Remove the chicken, tip the pot, and take discard half of the fat with a large spoon, leaving everything else behind. Over high heat, and the marinade to the pan, let it boil quickly, reduce the heat, and scrape any tasty bits from the bottom into the liquid. Now reduce the heat to very low, return the chicken breast-side down, and cover the pot. Cook over lowest simmer for about ½ hour. Flip the chicken, baste, cover, and cook for 20 more minutes. Then flip to either side for about 10 minutes each side, until the entire chicken is lacquered dark brown. The meat should be falling from the bone. Put it on a plate, pull the bones from the chicken, trim the Pope’s nose and any excess fat, and chunk the chicken and skin with a spoon. Cover with foil and keep warm. Strain the liquid, degrease as possible, and pour into a small pan. Mix cornstarch with a tea cup of warm water till dissolved, and whisk into the strained liquid over high heat. Boil quickly, simmer 1 minute, and pour over the chicken. Serves 4.