A chicken dish is a must have at the Chinese New Year Eve reunion dinner. Typically the chicken is served whole with the head and all, symbolizing wholeness and prosperity. When I was a kid, the silky smooth “pak cham kai” (in Cantonese dialect) or “white cut chicken” was very popular. This dish is similar to the Hainanese Chicken I posted some months back. Most families will pre-order an organic chicken known in Malaysia as “kampung” or village chicken, for that purpose. I remember one year, someone actually gifted us with a life chicken. Mom and aunt had the task of slaughtering the chicken and preparing it. Please use your imagination for the rest of the story. Suffice to say the dish wasn’t very popular with the kids that year.

An alternative to “pak cham kai” is five-spice roast chicken. Often served at the Chinese 10-course wedding banquets, this delicious roast chicken is accompanied by shrimp crackers and pepper salt. This is one of the few dishes eaten with salt instead of soy sauce. Of course this was a favorite with the kids at those banquets, if they can look beyond that chicken head. Thank goodness that “garnish” seldom appear on the plate these days!

The chicken can be marinated overnight with ginger, scallion, and Hsiao Hsing rice wine. It is then drained, air dried, applied with a rub, and air dried again for several hours before roasting. The version shown here is simplified where the chicken is placed on a beer can roaster so that it sits upright during roasting. The juices drip onto the pan producing a chicken with crispy skin. The fragrant salt is easy to prepare and is good with most meats.

Here is what the beer can roaster looks like. A can of beer or soda may be placed in the center to flavor your roasted chicken. I will have to give it a try one of these days.

Chinese Five-Spice Roast Chicken

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Chinese Five-Spice Roast Chicken


  • 1 (3 to 4 lbs) roasting chicken
  • 1 tsp five-spice powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • Pepper Salt
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground white pepper


Remove giblets and excessive fat from chicken. Rinse chicken including the inside. Pat dry the outside and place it on a beer can chicken roaster to drip dry for an hour.

Pan fry sea salt and ground white pepper over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until fragrant.

Combine five-spice powder, salt, pepper, garlic powder in a small bowl. Remove chicken from the roaster and liberally sprinkle or pat mixture on the inside and outside of the chicken. Place chicken back onto roaster and allow it to dry for another hour. Truss chicken by tying the lower part of the wings and legs together.

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Roast chicken on the beer can roaster for approximately 1 hour 15 minutes or until thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone registers 180°F. Let rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Place sea salt and pepper in a small fry pan. Stir over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Remove and place in a small dish.

Serve chicken with slices of cucumber, shrimp crackers, and pepper salt.


I am submitting this to Aspiring Bakers #15: Auspicious Dishes for CNY (January 2012) hosted by Wen of Wen’s Delight.

Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 8)