Chinese Five Spice Roast Chicken

The ancient Chinese seemed to have gotten it right when they tried to develop a “wonder powder”. I’m no expert on Chinese cuisine; however, from what I gather, food can fall into one of two categories. Yin foods are thought to lower the metabolism and have high water content while yang foods raise the metabolism and are dense with food energy. Additionally, the heat of a dish must always be balanced with a cooling agent. One must ingest a balance between these foods so that they are not too lethargic (yin) or have undesirable physical issues such as acne and bad breath (yang). The Chinese tried to develop a spice powder that would bring a perfect balance between the yin and yang of their food. Thus, the 5 spice powder was developed…or so some would say. Others say the spices used in the blend are found in many blends widely used across the continent of Asia.

Whatever its roots, it brings a perfect harmony to any dish as it contains all five primary flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty. Blends can vary, but the most traditional recipe contains star anise, cloves, Sichuan pepper, fennel seeds, and ginger powder or Chinese cinnamon.

When I first started cooking, I came across this recipe for Chinese Five Spice Roast Chicken in a cookbook we got as a wedding gift. I haven’t changed it a bit…well except for a couple minor adjustments as well as the removal of the chicken skin. I just don’t think it’s necessary, it’s fatty and the bumps kinda gross me out. Also, I noticed that the meat of the chicken seems to hold the marinade so much better when it’s off. I choose to remove the thing. But that’s a personal preference. You can do what you want and I won’t hate. But, make sure you have bone-in chicken. It will become much more tender when cooked on the bone.

This is always a solid go to, because I can quickly make the marinade the night before. Then, when I come home from a long day in the classroom, all I have to do is pop it in the oven and cook up some quick brown rice and edamame. This dish will bring balance to any day. Totally guaranteed. Everything about it is perfect. Now go get yourself some Chinese five spice.

Chinese Five Spice Roast Chicken

Adapted from Quick and Easy Chinese by Nancie McDermott


1/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce

3 tbsp grapeseed oil

2 tbsp dry sherry or Shaoxing rice wine

1 tbsp chopped garlic

2 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder

1/2 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2-3 lbs bone-in, free-range chicken thighs or legs (skin removed)

For serving: edamame and brown rice


1. Rinse the chicken. Using kitchen scissors, remove the skin of the chicken and dispose of the stuff.

2. In a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, vegetable oil, sherry, garlic, ginger, five-spice powder, sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt.

3. Add the chicken pieces and turn to coat them evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

4. Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the chicken on the rack of a roasting pan or a baking pan lined with foil. Cook 25 minutes and then turn each piece over.

5. Continue cooking until the chicken is browned and cooked through, about 45 minutes total.

6. Serve hot with brown rice and shell-on edamame.


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