Soya Chilli Chicken, or Chicken in a Master Sauce, or Red Cooked Chicken Recipe

Here in Perth you often see Soya Chicken hanging in the windows of Chinese BBQ shops and Asian foodhall stalls. The secret of Chinese Soya Chicken is the soy sauce broth or Master Sauce which it is simmered in. Chinese cooks reuse the same broth over and over again after reboiling, straining out and replacing the aromatic components. Over time more meat stock is imparted into the broth and its richness is continually enhanced.

This method of preparing meat is called Red Cooking. I don’t know why, as I can’t see any red colour and its probably the reason why red cooked chicken is just called Soya Chicken at the shops. It could be a problem with translation  perhaps.

Other meats are also prepared in this way. Beef and offal are simmered in a broth based on dark soy sauce, which imparts a very deep colour, while poultry is simmered in a light soy broth – obviously lighter in colour. My recipe is adapted from Charmaine Solomon’s 1970s-era Chinese Cookbook and I have made it many times over the years. Although I haven’t always kept my Master Sauces for that long, it is possible. Many Chinese restaurants have had their sauces in operation for many years, even decades. I’ll explain how you can do that in the recipe below.

We have been cooking this frequently over the past month. Its simplicity makes it a convenient dish to make, and served with a salad and a scoop of steamed rice it’s perfect on balmy spring/summer evenings.



1.5kg whole chicken
1 & 1/2 cup light soy sauce
1 & 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1-3 cloves of garlic bashed
5cm piece unpeeled ginger sliced
10-15 broken sections star anise or 2-3 whole star anise
2 tablespoons sugar

For serving

2 teaspoons sesame oil
Sweet of hot chilli sauce for dipping
Steamed rice
Salad or blanched Chinese greens such as Bok Choy or Choy Sum


  1. Put chicken, breast side up, in a suitable sized pot and add the soy sauce, water, garlic, ginger, rice wine, star  anise and sugar.
  2. Bring very slowly to a near boil, cover and reduce heat to a very slow simmer. Cook for about 1 hour spooning the broth over the unsubmerged part of the chicken often.
  3. Turn chicken over carefully, replace lid, turn off heat and allow to rest for at least and hour or until cooled.
  4. Remove chicken from broth, brush with sesame oil and carve for serving. Serve with plain steamed rice and the other recommended items.

How to reuse the Master Broth

  1. Pour the broth through a sieve to remove all the aromatic and sedimentary particles. Discard the aromatics.
  2. In a clean pot reboil the strained broth, pour into a clean container, cool quickly then keep in your freezer in an airtight container. It will keep very safely for up to 6 months.
  3. To make soya chicken again with this Master Sauce, remove the fat layer from the top and discard fat, lightly defrost, put into a cooking vessel, and then add the same amounts of fresh garlic, ginger and star anise as outlined above. You can also add a little more soy sauce, rice wine sugar and water to fortify the flavour and volume. I add these to taste.
  4. Bring the liquid up to a heat where it is no longer jellified, add your chicken and cook as described in the recipe above.
  5. Remove your cooked chicken when finished and then repeat the straining, boiling and freezing processes for the broth again. Reuse it again when you want to. Your broth can go on forever like this because it never gets a chance to develop any bacterial spoilage, as it is reboiled and then frozen until next time. Furthermore, the salty and gelatinous nature, restricts bacterial infection. The more you use it the better it tastes and the more flavour it imparts into your soya chicken.

Note: You can also use some of this Master Sauce in other Chinese dishes, such as stir-fries. Just adding a tablespoon or so, straight from your freezer, to your other sauces gives a very rich and developed flavour to quick-cooked dishes. It’s a great resource to have on hand. You can also add additional aromatics, such as lemongrass, cinnamon/cassia quills, five spice and even whole chillies to your broth for a more South-East Asian style Master Sauce. Enjoy! – its one of my all-time favourites.


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