Unlike my dad, who would make dinner from scratch every single day when we were growing up (we were lucky girls), I only cook a few times a week. When I’m ambitious, I’ll make most of my meals on the weekend and eat some variation of them throughout the work week. About every other week, I’ll make my mom’s yeem gok gai, salt-baked chicken, which feeds us for a good number of days. (It’s one of my favorite foods, and if I made it any more often than that, we’d be subsisting on chicken alone!)

Traditionally, salt-baked chicken is a Hakka dish made by encasing a whole chicken in salt and baking this in the oven. My mom’s simplified version involves dry-toasting salt in a pan before adding it to already-cooked chicken. The toasted salt, combined with fried shallots, gives you lots of smoky flavor with very little work.

I like to make this from poached chicken, and we’ll usually eat a few meals of this with rice and veggies and a few with noodle soup made from the broth. In fact, one of my favorite lunches is made almost completely with the leftovers: bean thread noodles cooked in the leftover broth, topped with leftover chicken, greens, and fried shallots and oil.

Easy Salt-Baked Chicken
Serves 4-6

I’ve noticed that regular table salt works best in this recipe, as it gets a nice color and more smoky taste, whereas natural salt (which I’ve used here) doesn’t turn color as much, and kosher salt even less so. I like to make a lot of the salt and pepper mixture and keep it in a spice jar, thereby cutting down on one of the steps the next time I make this dish. Same with the fried shallots and oil, which keeps well in the refrigerator.

1 poached chicken
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 medium shallot, sliced
1 Tbsps vegetable or canola oil
1 Tbsp sesame oil, or more to taste

1. Shred one poached chicken into large pieces and keep in a large bowl. (Like a true Asian, I like to keep a bit of meat on the bones to gnaw on, but if you like, you can reserve the bones for stock.)

2. Put the salt in a small pan on medium heat and let it slowly toast until it turns a very light golden color. Keep close watch and give the pan a couple shakes so that the salt doesn’t burn. If it turns color too quickly, turn the heat down to medium-low.

3. Once the salt is done, add the pepper, give the pan a few shakes, and turn off the heat. Make sure you stand back and ventilate well as the pepper is very strong when heated.

4. In another small pan, heat the oil on medium-high, then add the sliced shallot. When the shallot begins to turn golden, turn off the stove and take the pan off the heat. Let the shallots continue to brown in the pan, but watch to see that they don’t burn.

5. Add the sesame oil, fried shallots and shallot oil, and half of the salt and pepper mixture. Toss all together and adjust seasoning to taste.