The smell of ginger being browned in fragrant sesame oil wafted through the house. It will be braised afterwards with a trotter in black vinegar and brown sugar.
This is probably the best-known dish fed to mothers in confinement, and to new fathers too, who hover in anticipation while it is being cooked.
You see, I have a new grandson and with his arrival come new responsibilities, such as cooking confinement food for his mother, my dear daughter-in-law.
Roast chicken stuffed with dried longans and red dates
• 1 1½ kg chicken
• 1 tsp five-spice powder
• 1 tbs salt
• 1 tbs oil
• 4-5 garlic cloves, unpeeled and smashed
• 1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, unpeeled, smashed
• 2 cups of glutinous rice, soaked overnight, then drained
• 4 shallots, peeled and sliced
• 6 dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked, then cut into slivers
• 10 dried longans, quickly rinsed
• 6 dried red dates, quickly rinsed
• Pinch of salt
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 1 tbs rice wine
• Heat oven to 200 deg C.
• Rub the chicken with five-spice powder, salt and oil.
• Place whole garlic cloves and ginger into the cavity and roast in oven for an hour, turning down the heat to 180 deg C halfway.
• In the meantime, prepare the glutinous rice.
• Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok and brown the sliced shallots till fragrant.
• Add the slivered Chinese mushrooms.
• Add the drained rice and stir to coat grains of rice with fragrant oil.
• Add a splash of rice wine, about 1 tbs. Keep stirring, then add the longans, red dates and a pinch of salt.
• Place the rice mixture in a rice cooker and add the chicken stock. Cook till done.
• The chicken should be done at about the same time.
• Serve the rice stuffing together with the chicken, either carved in the kitchen or at the table.
SERVES FOUR TO SIX
It was a challenge I took on readily, not only because I like to feed people, but also because I wanted to try to cook Chinese confinement food following the old principles, but using updated recipes.
I am no expert in these health food principles, but reading Ms Ng Siong Mui's book on prenatal and postnatal recipes, I gathered that fish, ginger, red dates, longans, green papaya, pork, chicken, liver and black vinegar are among the ingredients traditionally found in the dishes.
And they are used for various reasons: They either expel wind, promote body heat, boost milk supply or strengthen the body, or are rich in protein and iron - all important to the new mother undertaking demanding duties during this month.
She would be caring for and feeding the new baby and also need to build up her strength after the physically taxing job of giving birth.
No wonder they call it labour.
I avoided the herbal mixes that some recipes called for because that dish was going to feed the rest of the family as well.
New mothers can also drink a tea made with longans and red dates daily.
It is believed that it can promote body heat, cleanse the blood and help with sleep and relaxation.
Dates, in particular, are rich in iron as well as dietary fibre, protein and various B vitamins.
Because of this, I added the dried fruit into this recipe for a roast chicken.
You can buy the dried fruit at Chinese dried food shops or at the dried food stalls in most wet markets.
Chicken is generally recommended for new mothers to help build up strength.
Indeed, some new mothers will consume a whole double-boiled chicken nightly before turning in, in the belief that it will help them to sleep.
While steaming and boiling are the usual cooking methods, I decided to roast my chicken and stuff it with glutinous rice, dates and longans.
It was a hit, and not only with the new mother.
The rest of the family ate it up with gusto, so much so that I even replicated the recipe this past Christmas, but with turkey.
It is a simple recipe, despite it looking most celebratory.
You merely rub the bird with five-spice powder, oil and salt before roasting.
To make a fail-safe rice stuffing, I cook the rice outside of the chicken.
It was browned first with shallots, dates, longans and dried mushrooms, then cooked in a rice cooker with chicken stock, to provide that meaty sweetness.
Try it, for it is a roast chicken that can be eaten at any time and not just during confinement.
•Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.
Principal dietitian, Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre
Roasting and grilling use a dry-heat cooking method that requires little oil or fats to cook the chicken. They can both be considered healthier cooking methods when compared with frying, which usually involves using more fats.
Grilling, however, uses high cooking temperatures, which may increase the formation of some carcinogens (cancer-causing substances).
Both white rice and glutinous rice are similar in terms of nutrition. But glutinous rice has lower calorie and carbohydrate counts.
(Per 280g serving)
Energy: 353 kcal
Total fat: 17.2g
Saturated fat: 4.4g
Dietary fibre: 1.5g
In a 100g serving, white rice contains 140kcal, while glutinous rice has just 97kcal. White rice also contains 31g of carbohydrates per 100g serving, compared with 20g for glutinous rice.
Glutinous rice also has more than double the amount of fibre than white rice.
Red dates, on the other hand, contain vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium and iron, which contribute to overall well-being.
Dried longans are rich in iron. Every 100g of dried longans can provide about 30 per cent of our daily iron requirement. The fruit is also a great source of potassium. Every 100g of dried longans contains twice the amount of potassium than 100g of bananas.
Overall, this dish is rich in protein, which is essential for the repairing and building of tissues.
Post-partum mothers can eat this dish as part of a healthy diet.
One may, however, wish to reduce the amount of salt used, to cut back on sodium intake.