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Yunnan Steam Pot Chicken

  Steam Pot Chicken first became popular in southern Yunnan Province during a visit to the region by Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799). Legend has it that the dish was created by Yang Li, a cook from Fudeju Restaurant in Jian’an Prefecture. The local magistrate launched a competition among chefs to create a delicacy to serve the visiting emperor. The selected dish would win 50 taels of silver. Yang’s family were destitute; his mother was sick and bed-ridden. Yang decided to enter the competition and integrated hot pot with steaming to create a new method, steam pot cooking.

  A steam pot is made of red clay and looks like an earthenware basin with a lid. In the center of the pot is a steam nozzle. Meat, herbs, and other ingredients are put into the pot to steam over heat. Kitchen paper or paste is used to create a tight seal between the lid and the pot. The difference between this and other steaming methods lies in the fact that no water is added to steam the food. The resulting broth comes from the meat and other ingredients and, therefore, is rich in nutrients. The chicken can be marinated before steaming, and excess water and blood should be completely drained, so as not to spoil the flavor.

  The story goes that Yang went to great lengths to make the perfect steam pot chicken for the emperor, but when accused of deceiving His Majesty after his steam pot was stolen was nearly sentenced to death. Luckily, the emperor absolved him. On the back of Yang’s success, Fudeju Restaurant changed its name to Yang Li’s Steam Pot Chicken and the dish gained in popularity across Yunnan.


1. Select a free-range chicken weighing about 2 kg. Wash clean and chop into 5-10 cm cubes. Blot the pieces with kitchen paper to dry and put into a steam pot, without adding any water. Add chopped scallions, ginger, salt. Ensure that the contents do not exceed one half to two thirds of the pot.

2. Add the ingredients that take the longest time to steam cook, for example, Xuanwei smoked ham. To make the chicken more health-giving, add some Chinese wolfberry, dried mushroom, Chinese angelica, Codonopsis pilosula, and more chopped scallion and ginger.

3. Place the steam pot into the same size boiler and then turn up the heat. Seal the lid to the base using kitchen paper or paste.

4. After 10 minutes, remove the lid and check whether there is any liquid in the pot. If so, this means the chicken was not adequately dry before cooking. Remove the water and dry the chicken thoroughly, wash and dry the pot, and repeat the method from step three.

5. Steam the chicken over a high heat for about three hours, and serve. More time may be needed to make the chicken more tender. During the whole process, one should check to ensure that the water in the pot does not boil dry.