Introduction: Beggar's Chicken, a Chinese Delicacy

About: I like to make things more simple with easily available resources. My favorite quote: A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a…
Long back I read about a Chinese delicacy known as "Beggar's Chicken" and was waiting for an opportunity to try my hands on it. It is the Chinese version of the roasted chicken dating back to the Qing dynasty. The process involves wrapping a whole spiced chicken in lotus leaves, then encasing it in mud and roasted in open fire. When fully cooked, the mud forms a hard shell around the chicken and cracked open before revealing the deliciously roasted chicken inside.

As per the legend, a beggar in Zhejiang province stole a chicken from a village, and buried it in mud. He retrieved the mud covered chicken latter, and instead of cleaning the mud he just threw it in an open fire. This resulted in hardening the muddy shell around the chicken with a deliciously roasted bird inside. He then started selling chickens cooked this way and made a fortune for himself, also creating a Chinese culinary tradition known as "Beggar's Chicken".

Step 1: Making Five-Spice Powder

Five-Spice is one of the main ingredients in making Beggar's Chicken. It is a roasted, powdered blend of spices like Cinnamon, Fennel seeds, Clove, Star Anise and Sichuan Pepper. It is mainly used in Chinese cooking as well in most of the Asian countries. All these spices are growing in our area too. Though I got all raw spices, I could get Sichuan pepper in powdered form only.

Thanks to lmnopeas for her instructable on "Chinese Five Spice Powder" at:

I followed her instructable in making the Five-spice powder for the Beggar's Chicken recipe.

Step 2: Other Ingredients

Ingredients required:

I have slightly modified the ingredients required for the original Beggar's Chicken Recipe. The following are the ingredients I have used:
  1. One kg of Chicken cleaned
  2. Two tablespoons of Five-Spice Powder
  3. Three tablespoons of Soy Sauce
  4. Four medium sized Onions
  5. One full Garlic bulb
  6. One inch Ginger piece
  7. Three tablespoons of cooking oil
  8. One tablespoon Sugar
  9. Salt to taste
  10. One tablespoon Red Chilly powder
  11. Two Tomatoes
  12. Four Green Chilies (for the aroma)

Step 3: Making the Spice Paste

Making the Spice Paste
  1. Peeled Ginger and Garlic and Made paste in a Mixer / Grinder
  2. Peeled Onion and made a paste
  3. Pureed two tomatoes
  4. Mixed all ingredients including Five-Spice Powder, Soy sauce, Sugar, Salt, Cooking oil and Red Chilly Powder together  along with above pastes in a bowl (other than the Green Chilies)

The spice paste is ready. I have not added any water to the mix.

Step 4: Preparing the Chicken

Placed the cleaned chicken in a large sized bowl and applied the spice paste. Most of the spice paste went between the skin and flesh. Also applied the spice paste on the outer and inner sides of the chicken.

Sliced green chilies were inserted behind the skin for added aroma. 

Now the chicken is ready to be wrapped.

Step 5: Wrapping the Spiced Chicken

The Chinese version of the recipe caters for a Lotus leaf for wrapping the spiced chicken. Here I have used a large sized tender Banana leaf in lieu of the Lotus leaf as wrapping with banana leaves may confer an aroma to the chicken.

The fresh Banana leaf tends to tear down in places while wrapping. Curing the leaf over low flame will prevent it from tearing down.

Placed the spiced chicken in the cured Banana leaf, wrapped it around the chicken and tied it with cotton thread.

The spiced chicken is now ready for Mud-casing

Step 6: Mud-Casing

Mud-Casing the wrapped chicken is done prior to roasting it in open fire. I have dug out some red soil about six inches below the surface after clearing the top soil from our garden. Added little water to the soil and applied the casing over the banana leaf wrapped spiced chicken.

Now we need to collect fire wood and make an open fire to roast it.

Step 7: Roasting the Chicken in Open-Fire

We made an open fire with old wood collected from the garden. Dried out leaves of coconut tree also helped us to keep the fire going.

Initially, we placed the mud casing over an aluminium plate on a metal stand. When the bottom side of the casing was almost hard, we removed the plate and roasted it on open fire. Then turned it upside down to make it cooked evenly on all sides.

It took us about two hours to roast and make the outer mud casing hard on all sides.

Step 8: Beggar's Chicken Ready...!!!

Removed the roasted Chicken from the fire and allowed it to cool for some time, then broke the hardened mud-casing.

Untied the cotton thread and removed the banana leaf wrapping from around the cooked chicken.

The roasted chicken was rightly done, neither overdone nor under-cooked.

Now the Beggar's Chicken is ready to be served.
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