Hed Chef

Braise chicken for a lighter take on kou rou bao

Chicken bak bao.
Chicken bak bao.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - I used to pooh-pooh the idea of using anything but pork belly for making kou rou bao - braised pork belly buns in Mandarin or kong bak bao in Teochew.

But I finally decided to try a chicken version, which turned out better than I expected.

Slathered in a thick luscious gravy, the braised chicken goes very well with frisee lettuce leaves.

I also like stuffing the buns with coriander and spring onions.

Upping the amount of greens helps keep the dish from being too cloying.

Chicken also cooks much quicker, so it means less time hovering over the stove.

I choose to use deboned chicken legs because the meat is more tender.

Chicken bak bao


3 cardamom pods
5 cloves
2 star anise
1 stick of cinnamon
1 litre of water
3 pieces danggui (Chinese angelica)
3 pieces huai shan (Chinese yam)
3 pieces yuzhu (Solomon's Seal)
1 piece dangshen (codonopsis root)
1 piece of Mandarin orange peel
3 red dates
6 deboned chicken legs (with skins)
3 Tbs sugar
4 garlic cloves
10g ginger
15g galangal
10g spring onion, divided
10g fresh coriander, divided
5 Tbs dark soy sauce
2 Tbs light soy sauce
1 scant tsp salt
1 Tbs potato starch mixed with 1 Tbs of water
12 mantou (steamed buns)
100g of frisee lettuce



1. Rinse the cardamom, cloves, star anise and cinnamon. Dry fry in a  pan until fragrant. Set aside. 

2. Bring the water to boil in a pot.


3. Add the danggui, huai shan, yuzhu, dangshen, orange peel and red dates to the pot and boil for 20 minutes. 

4. Halve each of the chicken legs, keeping the skins on.

5. In a large sturdy pot, spread the sugar in an even layer. Warm over low heat till the sugar melts and browns. This will take around five minutes. Watch carefully to make sure the sugar does not burn.

6. Once the sugar caramelises, add the chicken pieces to brown.

7. Add the fried cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and star anise.

8. Add the garlic, ginger and galangal.


9. Add the boiled herbs and water.

10. Add half of the coriander and half of the spring onion. 

11. Add the dark and light soy sauces and salt.

12. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes or until the meat is tender.

13. Remove the meat from the pot. Strain the mixture, reserving the braising liquid.

14. Bring the liquid to a boil. Stir in the potato starch and water mixture to thicken it. Use this as gravy.

15. Assemble the buns by putting one piece of chicken, frisee leaves, fresh coriander and spring onion in each bun. Drizzle reserved gravy over the stuffed buns. 

Serves six.