What’s remarkable about this dish, from San Francisco chef Charles Phan, is that instead of developing flavor step-by-step, you stir together a bunch of ingredients—chicken, ginger, soy sauce, preserved black beans heated with garlic in olive oil—and pour them into a clay bowl that you place into a steamer. Thirty to forty minutes after steaming, you have fall-apart chicken that’s been infused with all of those other components and, because it all happens in one vessel, it makes its own sauce.
Cut the chicken with a large sharp knife or a cleaver, separating the wings, legs, thighs, and back from the body. Cut all of these into 2-inch pieces, slicing through the bone, including the back. Save the breast for another use.
In a large bowl, toss the chicken with a splash of olive oil, a big pinch of salt, the rice wine, cornstarch, soy sauce, white pepper, ginger, scallions, sugar, and shallots.
In a small pot or skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil and add the garlic. As it becomes fragrant, add the preserved black beans and cook for a minute, stirring, until the flavors combine. Pour over the chicken, stir everything together, and allow the dish to sit, covered, for 2 to 3 hours at room temperature.
Transfer the chicken to a clay bowl that’s wide and deep enough to hold everything along with the juices that will come out when it cooks. Fill a wok halfway with water and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Place a bamboo steamer in the water and put another bamboo steamer on top; the second steamer will not touch the water. In that steamer, place the clay bowl and cover with the bamboo top. Allow to cook like this, monitoring the water (you don’t want it all to evaporate), for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
When it’s ready, very carefully remove the clay bowl from the steamer. (It’s hot!) Garnish the chicken with some cilantro leaves and serve with steamed rice.
Photo: Johnny Miller