Steamed Chicken Breasts with Scallion-Ginger Sauce

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Occasionally, I stumble over a culinary combination so obvious that I don’t know whether to marvel over the bad luck that has kept it from me until now or the good luck that finally brought it my way. This was certainly the case with the Chinese dipping sauce of oil, scallions, ginger, and salt that I had in a Cantonese restaurant in Vancouver. It was served with chicken that had been steamed, then lightly dressed with soy and sesame oil; but my host demonstrated the usefulness of the sauce by stirring it into soup as well.

NotesWine: Beer, or a light, crisp white, like Sauvignon Blanc, Graves, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, or dry Pinot Blanc.

You can speed up production by puréeing the ginger and oil in a blender, then pulsing in the scallion, but this makes the sauce creamy, almost muddy, and it’s much more attractive when hand-chopped, the solids sitting in the oil.

I like to steam the breasts on the bone, which takes about 5 minutes longer than boneless breasts, because they remain moister and a little more flavorful that way, but of course you can use boneless breasts. I also like to leave the skin on, which insulates the meat from drying out; again, you can use breasts that have had the skin removed.

If you don’t have a steamer, here’s how to jury-rig one: Put a rack into a pan and add water to a level just shy of the bottom of the rack. The chicken can go directly on the rack or on a plate on the rack. Cover the pan while cooking.

Make sure your oil is fresh; if it smells off, it is.

Makes4 servings

Cooking Time20 min

Cooking Methodsteaming



Total Timeunder 30 minutes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, healthy, lactose-free


Five Ingredients or LessYes


Taste and Texturehot & spicy, nutty, smoky, umami


  • 4 chicken breast halves, bone-in or out (see Notes)
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • ½ cup grapeseed, corn, or other light oil
  • ¼ cup trimmed and chopped scallions, white and green parts combined (¼-inch pieces)
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons good soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil


  1. Steam the chicken over simmering water for 6 to 10 minutes for boneless breasts, 10 to 15 minutes for bone-in. The chicken is done when white and firm to the touch; cut into a piece if you want to be certain.

  2. Meanwhile, stir together the ginger, oil, scallions, and salt to taste in a bowl. The mixture should be quite strong; you can add more ginger, scallions, or salt if you like.

  3. When the chicken is done, drizzle it with the soy sauce and sesame oil and serve. Pass the scallion-ginger sauce at the table or divide it into four small bowls for dipping.

  4. With MINIMAL Effort:

  5. This is a powerful sauce, one that will markedly change the character of anything to which you add it. Stir it into soup, noodles, or simply a bowl of rice, or steam some fish–just as you would chicken–and serve the sauce with that.

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A REALLY GREAT SAUCE. This is the best secret sauce hardly ever spoken of. I grew up eating this with our dim sum and shrimp balls at my family's favorite Chinese restaurant in the Philippines, Peacock. This is honestly the best savoury sauce in the world for me. It goes superbly with almost everything. I could eat spoonfuls of this by itself it's that delish. Agreed, it mixes well into soups, rice, white meats and even some read meats. And absolutely with seafood, noodles. Hainanese Chicken and Sinampalukan Manok (Philippine salted no-cook chicken). My siblings and I used to fight over this sauce!

Bittman is right: this sauce is seriously fantastic! Sometimes I make it in the blender so that the oil thickens and the sauce becomes more like a paste. Then I serve it over sliced steamed chicken breasts or use it to dress simply steamed shrimp. A perfect low-carb meal!


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