The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_GSTEAM_FI_001

Full Steam Ahead

Don't hesitate – this Asian-inspired steamed bird is no rubber chicken


There are so many foods that do well when steamed. This gentle cooking technique produces crisp, tender broccoli, makes for impossibly delicate salmon, and has long helped British cooks with their dessert courses when no ovens were available.

Still, when it was first suggested that I consider steaming a whole chicken, I was a little unsure. I was afraid that I’d produce something rubbery and bland. It seemed like a process destined for disappointment.

As I looked into it, I quickly discovered that there’s a long tradition of steamed chicken and that, if done right, the process produces a moist and mild-flavored bird. And so, I set to collecting the necessary ingredients to properly steam a chicken. I picked up a bamboo steamer at an Asian market, got my hands on an organic chicken, and gathered ginger, green onions, garlic, and white wine.

I set the steamer (as long as your pot has a tight-fitting lid, you only need the bottom portion) in my widest Dutch oven with some of the ginger, garlic, and onions tucked underneath it. The rest of the veg got tucked into the cavity of the bird, which was then placed snugly on the steamer. I poured a combination of water and white wine into the pot, popped the lid on and proceeded to bring the liquid up to a boil.

My three and a half pound chicken took about 50 minutes over the simmering liquid to cook through (I checked by making a couple a small slits in the breast meat. Once the juices ran clear, it was done). After a ten-minute rest, we carved the chicken and ate it with brown rice and sesame kale. This chicken technique is going into the regular rotation, for both its ease and general level of deliciousness.

Notes on steamers, ingredients, and leftover liquid:

If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you can pick one up at an Asian market for just a few dollars. Fancy kitchen stores charge three or four times as much for the exact same thing, so make the trip and save your cash. If you don’t want to invest in a bamboo steamer, a silicone steamer basket will work, provided you have one that is sturdy enough to bear the weight of your chicken.

Because there are so few ingredients in this recipe, it is in your best interests to buy the good stuff. Splurge on an organic chicken (make sure you get one that isn’t pre-brined, as those birds can be overly salty) and make sure the garlic and ginger is fresh. You don’t have to get a super expensive bottle of wine, but do make sure you get something that tastes good to you.

Once your chicken is finished cooking, you should have a cup or two of intensely flavored liquid in the bottom of your pot. You can do a few different things with it. You could boil it down for some extra thickness and serve it with the chicken. If you make your chicken ahead of time, you could use it as cooking liquid for your rice. Or you can simply strain it, pop it in the fridge, and use it like you would chicken stock. Whatever you do, don’t just throw it away. It’s useful and delicious.

Steamed Chicken


  • 1 medium, organic chicken (approximately 3½ to 4 pounds)
  • 1 large bunch of green onions
  • 1 piece ginger, approximately three inches long
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • sea salt
  • 2 cups white wine (if you don’t do alcohol, you can sub in chicken stock)
  • 2 cups water


Rinse the chicken and pat it dry. Cut the green onions into 2-3 inch lengths and slice the ginger into rounds.

Season the chicken liberally with salt and tuck half the onions, ginger, and garlic into its cavity.

Place the remaining onions, ginger, and garlic into the bottom of a pot large enough to hold a steamer basket. Place the steamer on top of the veg and set the chicken on top of it. Pour the wine and water into the pot, taking care to ensure that the liquid level doesn’t come up over the chicken.

Set a lid on the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Once the liquid is rolling, reduce the temperature to medium and steam for 45-50 minutes. Check two or three times during cooking, if it appears that the liquid levels are running low, add some water to compensate.

Chicken is done when its juices run clear or when it registers 165° on an instant read thermometer. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes before carving.

Sesame Kale


  • 1 bunch lacinato/dino/Tuscan kale
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • toasted sesame oil to garnish (optional)


Wash kale and strip the leaves from the stems. Chop into fine ribbons.

In a large skillet, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add kale ribbons. Using tongs, turn the kale in the pan so all the kale gets a very fine coating of the oil. Add the soy sauce, put a lid on the pan, and reduce heat to medium-low.

Cook kale for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally and checking to ensure that the pan hasn’t gone absolutely dry. The kale is finished when it’s tender but not completely lifeless. Remove from pan from heat and top kale with sesame seeds and a few dashes of the oil (if using). Stir to combine and serve.

Marisa McClellan is a food blogger, freelance writer and canning teacher based in Center City Philadelphia. She runs a website called Food in Jars, where she writes about canning, preserving and delicious things made from scratch. She regularly writes for the Food Network, USA Today, Grid Philly and Mrs. Wages. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.


  1. Marilyn Friedman says:

    Yum…since I am just one person, this is still a great recipe, because the leftover chicken will be moist and useful in many ways…chicken salad, sandwiches, wrapped in rice paper, etc. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Exactly, Marilyn! The first night I made it, we ate the breast meat and then the next day, we used the rest to make chicken salad. I imagine it would also freeze well if you needed to tuck away some of the meat for later.

  2. I think this sounds like a great idea but I’m curious about putting a raw chicken on a bamboo steamer – is the steamer safe for use after – does the cooking of the chicken cook away any potential bacteria problem on the bamboo? I guess people cook raw meat/fish in bamboo all the time so it must be fine. I’m not one of those paranoid food people, it just seemed the slow steam cooking and contact with raw meat would let bacteria get into the bamboo – it must be killed by the heat?

    • Oh, yes – if it’s hot enough to kill the bacteria in the chicken (i.e., to cook it) you’ve also killed any bacteria migrating from chicken to bamboo.
      And you’re right to be concerned; salmonella can be No Joke, especially if you’re dealing with anything immune-related already.

  3. Big___Al says:

    I don’t know, but I’m assuming the skin isn’t very edible after this process. If that’s true, what do you do with it? Thanks!

  4. sumhand says:

    Al… the skin.. its great!

    I steam my chicken in a tamale steamer. I use about 4 quarts of water, this provides enough broth to make a killer soup with the left overs and some rice

  5. Jane says:

    The intense flavored liquid described at the end of cooking is essence of chicken, a popular traditional Chinese remedy for exhaustion.

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