How to make Chinese steamed chicken: Recipe and tips for steaming chicken

Light, healthy, and delicious, there are few dishes better than some simple steamed chicken, lightly seasoned and served with some fresh veggies. Here's how to make our Chinese steamed chicken.

This Chinese steamed chicken recipe is quick, easy, and delicious.
This Chinese steamed chicken recipe is quick, easy, and delicious.  © Collage: IMAGO/Pond5 & TAG24/Evan Williams

When you think of Chinese food or any East or Southeast Asian food, you instantly jump to something that's rich and incredibly unhealthy. The thing is, spring rolls and deep-fried chicken with overly-sweet sauce are more American than Asian.

So what makes a good, easy, and healthy Chinese dish? With this Chinese steamed chicken recipe, served alongside some delicious bok choy and broccoli, we'll help you elevate your cooking. Do you want food that's interesting but still easy and healthy? We've got you covered!

How to make Chinese steamed chicken with ginger and scallion sauce: Recipe

Steamed chicken with some gorgeous greens, a light and fragrant sauce, and some crispy chicken skin chips is not only easy to make but super healthy and tasty as well. There's not much that you'll need if you want to make it, either, and we've even got a little secret for you if you don't have a proper steamer!

Here's the equipment you'll need to make Chinese steamed chicken:

  • A steamer
  • Without a steamer:
    • A large, tall, and wide pot
    • A metal colander that will sit inside the pot with the bottom suspended in the air
    • A lid that will fit in the colander
  • Chopping board
  • Sharp knives
  • Oven
  • Rice cooker (or a pot)

If you don't have a steamer: Don't worry, you can still make this super easily without the need for a proper steamer! Just grab a metal colander from your cupboard and suspend it in a tall pot, with boiling water at the bottom. You need to be able to seal it with a lid, and most importantly, you need to make sure that the colander is not in the water or you will end up boiling your food, not steaming it.

There's nothing quite like a delicious home-cooked meal that's also healthy and easy.
There's nothing quite like a delicious home-cooked meal that's also healthy and easy.  © TAG24/Evan Williams

Chinese steamed chicken recipe | Ingredients

You don't need anything super fancy to make some Chinese-style steamed chicken. Even the more Asian ingredients we use here are more-or-less findable in most Western supermarkets and aren't too expensive. Of course, the better the quality of the ingredients, the better the flavor, so try not to skimp too much if you can afford it.

Here are the ingredients for Chinese steamed chicken:

  • Two skin-on chicken breasts, 1 pound
  • One head of broccoli
  • Two medium-large bok choy
  • Three spring onions
  • Rice, 1 cup
  • Fish sauce
  • Sweet chili sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper

On the proportions: When it comes to this kind of cooking, measuring out precise and specific proportions kind of defeats the purpose. This will generally serve two people (one chicken breast each with plenty of veggies), but if you want more or less than that, then you'll need to increase the quantities proportionally.

Chinese steamed chicken recipe | Instructions

Let's start off by telling you not to be afraid. Most Westerners rarely steam anything, Americans especially are all about grilling stuff on the barbecue or frying the living daylights out of a steak. As a result, you may have never done this before, but don't worry yourself too much - it's super straightforward!

Here's how to make Chinese steamed chicken

Step 1: Add water to the bottom of your tall, wide pot. You want the water to reach about half an inch below the colander when you position it inside. Put the water on the stovetop and bring it to the boil. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to about 375°F.

Step 2: Put on your rice, following our comprehensive guide to rice cooking. Make sure to time it so that the rice is done by the time everything else is ready.

Step 3: With a very sharp knife, separate the skin from the chicken. Use long and straight cuts while carefully pulling at the skin and peeling it off. Season the skin with a generous amount of salt.

Step 4: Lightly season the chicken with a bit of salt as well. Chop up your spring onions and a thumb of ginger, peel 3-4 garlic cloves (but leave them whole), and grab around ten peppercorns. Toss them all into the steamer along with your chicken.

Step 5: Steam for about ten minutes on one side and then flip the chicken onto its other side and steam for another ten minutes, until cooked through.

Step 6: While steaming your chicken, toss the skin onto a flat oven tray that is lined with baking paper. Roast it in the oven for around 15 minutes, checking regularly to ensure that it isn't burnt. Once it has puffed up, is super crispy, and is a golden color, take it out and allow it to rest.

Step 7: While you steam your chicken, chop up your broccoli and your bok choy. Keep the pieces nice and big so you have some decently sized chunks.

Step 8: When the chicken is finished, take it out and put it on a chopping board, letting it rest for at least ten minutes before slicing.

Step 9: Once the chicken is out, add your bok choy and broccoli into the steamer as well. Cook for about five minutes, until they are a bit soft, cooked through, but still have a decent crunch to them.

Step 10: Throughout this whole process, you should be preparing your sauce. Skin and dice your ginger — the piece should be about the size of your thumb. Now add it to a small bowl, along with a healthy amount of fish sauce (3 tbsp), sweet chili sauce (2-3 tbsp), and a dash of sesame oil.

Step 11: Set your tap to the hottest water possible and put about 2–3 teaspoons of water into the sauce, mixing thoroughly until everything is combined (for two people, try to make around half a cup of sauce, but feel free to make more than that if you want). It should be incredibly fragrant!

Step 12: Now, it's time to serve up! Position your rice in a circular shape slightly off-center on your plate. Slice your chicken against the grain after letting it rest, putting it next to the rice. Now pile your greens around the chicken and rice, leaning them upright. Garnish with the chicken chips you made earlier, a little bit of salt and pepper, some more sliced-up spring onions and, of course, your sauce.

There may be twelve steps in this guide, but trust us: you'll be finished within twenty minutes. This whole dish will, from start to finish, take you about the same amount of time that it takes to boil water and cook rice. It's easy, super healthy, and divine!

How to steam broccoli and bok choy for Chinese steamed chicken

There are two vegetables in this world that stand out like no others: Broccoli and bok choy. They are the best greens you can have and are, generally, only outdone by celery in healthiness (if you ignore the travesty that is lettuce). While ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins) might be great, it won't come close to perfectly steamed bok choy.

What makes broccoli and bok choy even more amazing than most people think, though, is that they are really easy to cook. If you know what you're doing, that is.

Here are our tips for cooking broccoli and bok choy to perfection!

Tip 1: Stop boiling them! Most people will just grab a pot, boil the water, and chuck their broccoli into it. The end result is usually a soggy mess with little flavor (You know how the water goes green? Yeah, that's the flavor leaving your food!). Invest in a steamer or a contraption like we described earlier. It's easy, and it makes them taste way better!

Tip 2: Cut big, not small. It might be a little bit more difficult to eat, but bigger pieces of steamed broccoli and bok choy give you something to put your teeth into, adding an extra layer of texture to your dish. On top of that, it'll be easier to avoid overcooking these veggies if you cut them up bigger.

Tip 3: Season your end result with a tiny amount of salt and a bit of pepper just to add a touch of flavor. This isn't too necessary when making this steamed chicken, though, because the sauce you have created will do that work for you.

Feel free to also try adding other steamed veggies to the mix! Try steaming carrots, cauliflower, beans, zucchini, or even squash. Just remember to keep the pieces nicely sized so that they don't end up too soggy!

How to steam chicken

Steaming is possibly the healthiest way to cook chicken.
Steaming is possibly the healthiest way to cook chicken.  © imago/Panthermedia

Steaming chicken is as cheap as chips! Well, more specifically, as cheap as chicken! You literally don't need any other ingredients if you don't want them, and you will still get a succulent, tender, and juicy piece of bird. What's not to love?

The thing is, though, that you can easily make some modifications to the process to inject a little more spice, interest, and flavor into the mix. There are also a variety of things that you can do to get a better texture as well.

Here are our tips for steaming chicken:

Tip 1: Keep the skin on, even if you don't want to eat steamed chicken skin. If you don't feel like chicken skin chips, then keep the skin on and remove it after steaming. While the texture is a bit slimy and weird after steaming, the skin adds another layer of protection to the chicken, helping to keep the moisture in and ensuring juicier and more flavorful chicken.

Tip 2: Infuse your water to add a bit of extra flavor. It's simple, it's easy, and it only takes a minute. Feel free to add stuff to the water you are boiling, as the steaming process can add flavor into the chicken itself. Use some soy sauce or fish sauce, and toss in a few sprigs of rosemary if you want.

Tip 3: In the steaming net, add some extra ingredients. This will do more-or-less the same thing as adding stuff to the water but works better if you have physical ingredients instead of liquid ones. It's what we did with the ginger and the spring onions in our recipe!

Tip 4: Turn your chicken regularly so that it gets an even and consistent cook throughout the entire process. Of course, you're not going to sear the chicken when steaming, but an even cook will improve the texture, help to maintain the moisture and juices, and is just a generally good idea.

Steaming chicken is so easy and simple that you can feel free to experiment with it. What would pair nicely with the chicken, what would happen if you put lemon in with it? Give it a go and find out!

How long to steam chicken

You should only need about ten minutes on each side of a large chicken breast to get it cooked through, so twenty minutes in total. Of course, this time will depend on the size and the cut of chicken that you are trying to steam.

As a result, our recommendation is to pick up a meat thermometer so that you can measure the internal temperature of your chicken as it is cooking. You see, chicken can be very dangerous if served undercooked, as it regularly contains salmonella (which will get killed by the heat of cooking) and other nasty things that can make you very sick.

Once you have picked up a thermometer, make sure that you always cook your chicken to between an internal temperature of 165°F and 175°F. Any less and it will be undercooked and could be dangerous, any more and the chicken will start to become dry and overcooked.

Steaming chicken helps to retain the moisture, leading to less dried out chicken.
Steaming chicken helps to retain the moisture, leading to less dried out chicken.  © imago/Panthermedia

Why should you steam chicken?

Steamed chicken better retains the juices and flavors of a chicken without the need for any additional ingredients. It's a more pure way of eating chicken without having to batter it and fry it in oil or season it with a bunch of different ingredients. If done right, steaming your chicken will allow its flavor to shine more than any other method.

On top of that, the texture of steamed chicken is far moister and more tender. Nobody likes dry chicken breast, which is why we all generally prefer to eat the fattier cuts over the lean (and more healthy) cuts. This is why steaming is such a great technique: it allows you to get fantastic flavor and texture out of the more healthy but less desirable parts of the chicken.

If you're looking to go on a diet, then steaming chicken the way we described is an absolutely perfect choice. A little bit of salt will do for the seasoning, with all the flavor coming from the chicken itself, the ginger and spring onions you have infused during steaming, and your trusty sauce (which is also quite healthy).

Considering the fact that the most unhealthy part of this dish is the sauce, and you can easily control how much you put on, we think it's a pretty good bet if you want to start eating healthier.

Chinese-style steamed chicken is a healthy, quick, easy, and delicious meal

There are few better choices for a weeknight meal than Chinese-style steamed chicken. The reason why is quite simple: It'll be done in half an hour, it's insanely good for you, it's cheap, and it's delicious. It's also perfect if you want to impress your friends, family, or significant other - with those bright greens, a little bit of careful plating will make it look on point!

In the end, there's really no downside to steaming chicken. It's possibly the healthiest way to cook the stuff, as there's no oil involved, and you only have to salt it if you want to. With a few extra bits and pieces, a good sauce, and some delicious veggies, you'll be cooking Chinese-style steamed chicken every single week!

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO/Pond5 & TAG24/Evan Williams

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