An easy home-cooked meal of braised chicken in oyster sauce is the ultimate Chinese comfort food. This one-pot chicken dish is saucy, aromatic and fragrant, and best eaten with plain steamed rice.
When I was old enough, my mom decided I could be trusted to handle a hot fire and taught me how to cook our favourite family dish, oyster sauce chicken.
Mom never had recipes to follow, she eye-balled everything and her cooking was intuitive, even instinctive. As challenging as it was, I discovered very quickly that I could cook almost anything with oyster sauce.
Throw it into any meat, vegetable, rice or noodle stir-fry, and I was able to put a decent dish on the dinner table. Not bad for a 10-yr old in those days.
Over the years, my version of the classic oyster sauce chicken dish has evolved with elevated flavours and is as delicious, wholesome and hearty. And it’s a quick 30 – 45 minute braise over the stove – perfect for an easy weekday or weekend one-pot meal.
This is one dish you won’t find on a Chinese restaurant menu these days, so it’s more often savoured as a home-cooked dish.
I recommend cooking this dish with chicken wings, thighs and legs. These are the best parts because the texture after braising is deliciously smooth and extremely tender.
What is oyster sauce?
Oyster sauce is indelibly associated with sauces and gravies for meats and stir-fries. It is indispensable in Asian cooking and particularly in Chinese cuisine.
Oyster sauce is a dark brown, viscous, deep and intensely flavourful condiment.
It is made from sugar, salt, water, and the caramelised juices of slow-simmered oysters or oyster extracts and thickened with starch.
Every Chinese kitchen will have oyster sauce perpetually stocked, alongside light and dark soy sauces. I like to think of these as the essential trio of Asian sauces.
Ingredients to cook oyster sauce chicken
- chicken. You can cook with a whole chicken cut into 12 – 14 bite-sized parts, or with one type of chicken parts like thighs, wings or drumsticks.
- oyster sauce. Use regular or less sodium oyster flavoured sauce. Oyster sauce has a strong and pronounced flavour, so it’s usually added in a small amount. Start with less and add more if desired.
- light soy sauce. As with oyster sauce, you can opt to use regular or sodium-reduced light soy sauce.
- thick soy sauce. This is a sweeter dark soy sauce with a thick, sticky viscosity and has a different flavour from dark soy sauce. It may be labelled as sweet soy sauce. If you can’t get this where you are, it’s perfectly okay to use dark soy sauce and add a bit more sugar to balance the saltiness.
- sesame oil. Adds a nutty, smoky flavour and fragrance to the overall dish. You can use peanut oil or groundnut oil in its place.
- Chinese wine. I use Shao Hsing Hua Tiao Chiew, a brand of premium quality Chinese cooking wine. A good substitute for Chinese wine would be sherry or other rice wine.
- aromatics. These include ginger, garlic, and spring onion.
- pepper. I use ground white pepper, the usual choice in a lot of Chinese dishes.
- chicken seasoning powder.
- dried scallops. Dried scallops impart mildly sweet and umami flavours to a dish, without the fishy or pungent aroma and flavour of dried shrimp or dried oysters. Their prices vary with their size, quality and origin. Do not use fresh scallops.
What is braising?
Braising is a style or way of cooking that favours slow and gentle heating over low, controlled heat in a braising liquid or sauce bath.
It’s a slow cooking process that can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as several hours. The end goal of braising is to get food tender and flavourful.
In Chinese cooking, braising meat, seafood and tough fibrous vegetables involve gentle simmering in a flavourful mix of sauces, spices and liquids like stock or water.
Before braising, meats are usually seasoned lightly and given time to absorb the seasonings. Sometimes, a quick deep-fry or stir-fry is essential to seal in the flavour and juices before braising.
How to cook oyster sauce chicken: Step by step
- Marinate the chicken. Chop each chicken leg into 3 or 4 chunks (if cooking with a whole chicken, chop into 12 – 14 smaller chunks). Season with light soy sauce and pepper and set aside for 30 minutes.
- Slice the aromatics. Peel and slice ginger knob and garlic cloves. Cut the white part of spring onions into 1-inch lengths. Finely chop the green part for garnishing.
- Soak the dried scallops. Soak the dried scallops in warm water until softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the water, but reserve the soaking water. Shred the scallops finely with your fingers.
- Combine the sauce ingredients. In a bowl, combine the oyster sauce, light soy sauce, thick soy sauce, chicken seasoning powder, water, sugar and salt.
- Fry the aromatics and dried scallops. Heat up the sesame oil in a wok until hot. Stir fry the ginger, garlic and white sections of the spring onion until fragrant. Toss in the shredded scallops and fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Brown the chicken. Add the chicken chunks and toss until the meat changes colour. Drizzle in the Chinese wine and fry briskly until well combined.
- Add liquids. Transfer to an earthen clay pot (optional) or continue cooking in the wok. Pour in the combined sauce ingredients and the reserved soaking water. Bring to a boil.
- Braise until tender. Once the liquid comes to a boil, cover the wok or pot with its lid and reduce to low heat. Braise until chicken is tender, about 30 minutes or longer depending on how tender you want the meat to be. If the liquid reduces too quickly while braising, add a bit more water (3 – 4 tbsps) as often as needed.
- Garnish and serve. Dish out onto a serving plate, garnish with chopped spring onion and serve piping hot.
Dishes that go well with oyster sauce chicken
Oyster sauce chicken is such a delish meal unto itself so in our home, we eat it with nothing else save freshly cooked rice or rice noodles. Everything from the meat to the sauce and even the oils are simply umami!
To make this a complete Chinese meal for a family of 4 – 6, I recommend serving up oyster sauce chicken with Asian veggie stir-fries and other sides:
- stir-fried nai bai with garlic
- stir-fried eggs and tomatoes
- steamed minced pork with water chestnut
- Chinese water chestnut soup
How to turn oyster sauce chicken into a dish of your own
This braised chicken in oyster sauce is a very versatile dish. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can enhance and elevate the flavours in a few ways. Here are some ideas:
Add textural ingredients
Braise the chicken with dried Chinese mushrooms, potatoes, braised peanuts or chestnuts to add flavour and texture. I use dried scallops for added sweetness and umami flavour.
Introduce aromatic ingredients
Commonly used are ginger, garlic, galangal (blue ginger), spring onion, and spices such as cinnamon bark, cloves, star anise, ground spices and peppercorns.
Play with seasonings, oils and sauces
Oyster sauce pairs well with many Asian as well as Western sauces and seasonings, namely light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, and HP sauce. It is quite salted on its own, so bear this in mind when you combine different sauces. You can also use nut-flavoured oils like sesame oil, peanut oil or groundnut oil to create flavourful nuances.
Flavour with bean pastes
Popular bean pastes that are used widely in Asian cooking include soybean, black bean, or fermented red bean.
Use different cuts of chicken
For a tender eating experience, the favoured cuts of chicken are the wings and legs. These are preferred in Chinese braising because of their smooth texture.
Keep the skin on
The skin not only releases its flavourful oils into the sauce but also soaks up all the umami flavours of other ingredients.
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The delicious aroma and flavours of this oyster sauce chicken are irresistible and promise tender textured juicy meat.
Hardly any fancy garnishing is required. In fact, less is more and Chinese-style garnishing is simple, understated and takes nothing away from the main dish. A sprinkling of chopped spring onions, coriander leaves or parsley will suffice.
Here are more braised dishes you might like:
- Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Chinese Sausages
- Three Cup Chicken – Cooking Taiwanese Made Simple!
- Braised Pork Belly and Eggs in Soya Sauce
- Kapitan Soy Sauce Chicken
- Babi Pongteh (Pork Stewed with Soy Bean Paste)
Tried this recipe? I’d love to see it! Remember to share your pics on Instagram and tag @foodelicacy or #foodelicacy.
Braised Chicken in Oyster Sauce
- 3 chicken legs
- ½ tbsp light soy sauce
- ½ tsp pepper
- 1 thumb-length ginger knob
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 stalks spring onion
- 3 dried scallops
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- ½ tbsp Chinese wine
For the Sauce:
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 tsp chicken seasoning powder
- ½ tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- ½ tsp thick dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- pinch salt
- 1 – 2 tsp corn flour mixed in 1 tbsp water
- Chop each chicken leg into 3 or 4 chunks. Season with light soy sauce and pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel and slice ginger knob and garlic cloves. Cut the white part of spring onions into 1-inch lengths. Finely chop the green part for garnishing. Soak the dried scallops in warm water until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain, but reserve the soaking water. Shred the scallops finely.
- Combine the sauce ingredients.
- Heat up a wok over high heat with sesame oil until hot. Stir fry the ginger, garlic and spring onion (white sections) until fragrant. Add shredded scallops, and stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Put in the chicken chunks and toss until they change colour. Drizzle in the Chinese wine and stir fry briskly until well combined.
- Transfer to an earthen clay pot (optional) or continue cooking in the wok. Pour in the combined sauce ingredients and the reserved soaking water. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover the wok or pot with its lid, reduce to low heat, and let braise until chicken is tender, about 30 minutes or longer, depending on your desired tenderness.
- When almost done, taste the sauce. If a more intense flavour is desired, leave the pot uncovered and allow sauce to reduce. As the water evaporates, the saltiness or sweetness of the sauce will also be intensified, so adjust to your taste by adding more salt or more sugar. Thicken the sauce with cornflour mixture to your desired consistency.
- Garnish liberally with chopped spring onions and serve immediately.