Beggars Chicken fit for an emperor

By Jim Bailey

Here’s one for the poor man. The origin of Beggars Chicken, although seemingly far-fetched, is undoubted. Yankee Chef logoIn the early 19th century in China, a  starving man was wandering the streets in search of food. He found nothing, not even scraps that was usually thrown out the door for  passing dogs and stray cats.

Spotting a chicken running around, he ran after it in hopes of a dinner. After catching it, he wrestled his grip around the neck of the fowl and killed it quickly. He immediately ran to an alley and built himself a fire. While he built a bed of coals in which to roast his dinner, he plucked the bird, slathered a thick layer of mud all around it and nestled this mud-laden meal in the coals to cook. After a spell, he removed it from the embers, cracked the dried, brick-lick coating and began feasting.

At that same time, the emperor had been traveling on the main road and had his carriage halted to walk to a shop for whatever goods struck his fancy. Upon exiting his carriage, the emperor noticed a delicious smell coming from the alley. Upon examining the source of this delectable odor, he approached the dining beggar and asked what he was dining on. The beggar looked up at him, his hands and lips shining from the juices of his chicken and replied, “The beggars chicken.”

To this day, Beggars Chicken has graced most every Asian table in every home. In the past few decades, however, many Chinese diners refuse to call it Beggars Chicken, the name not being appealing to those with circumstance. The popularity of another name has taken over, so our great tasting recipe is more often referred to as Rich and Noble Chicken. Believe it or not!

Beggars Chicken

Beggars Chicken is traditionally baked in foil that has been enveloped in a flour, salt and water dough, mimicking the original preparation of mud. This helps keep all the steam and drippings in. Use 4 cups flour and 3 cups salt mixed with 1 1/2 – 2 cups water. This recipe is perfect for your outdoor grill as well.

Beggars Chicken roasted in foil to keep the juiciness in.

Beggars Chicken roasted in foil to keep the juiciness in.

1 broiler/fryer chicken, 2 to 2 1/2- pounds
1/2 cup soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
2 green onions, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon dried ginger
aluminum  foil

Rinse and pat dry the chicken. Place the chicken on a large piece of greased aluminum foil sheet, enough to wrap the chicken. Combine remaining soy sauce, sugar, five-spice powder, onions and ginger in a small bowl. Rub the chicken with 3 tablespoons soy sauce mixture and then rub with oil. Pour remainder of soy sauce mixture into the cavity of the chicken. Some sauce may run out but this is fine. Wrap foil around chicken and crimp well.
Place chicken on a baking pan and roast for 45 minutes at 425-degrees F.

*To make your own Chinese 5-spice powder, simply combine 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds (or ground star anise, which is similar in taste), 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves.

Yankee Chef book coverSchiffer Books of Pennsylvania has released Jim Bailey’s new book The Yankee Chef: Feel Good Food for Every Kitchen. It contains more than 550 traditional New England comfort-food recipes tweaked for today’s palates with hundreds of kitchen tips and food facts. The hardback book is 312 pages and contains 200 color images. Its ISBN is 978-0-7643-4191-5 and the cost is $34.99. The book can be ordered through Misty Valley Books, 802-875-3400.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeThe Yankee Chef

About the Author: Jim Bailey is a third generation Yankee Chef, New England food historian and newspaper columnist. His first cookbook, simply titled The Yankee Chef, has been published. He welcomes all feedback, questions or comments at

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