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Favorite Family Recipe: Soya Sauce Chicken

Updated on March 13, 2012
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As a certified health and wellness coach, I love discussing food, health benefits, and how to keep weight in check.

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When fellow hubber Eliminate Cancer asks, “What is your favorite family recipe?, ” one dish pops into my mind right away, together with fond memories of my childhood days.

The long shadow weaves its long arms through the lacy boughs of rambutan trees. The ground, a patchwork of light and dark becomes the perfect ground for a game of roundus (quite the British equivalent of baseball). The sun has lost its tropical heat and the air is saturated with the scent of jasmine and the wafts of delicious foods being prepared. All these escape our senses, we were too involved in the game to notice or savor the moment. The moment before the sun dips over the thick of distant foliage. The moment when the sky glows with pink and purple and the rush of gold. We’re oblivious, running around the yard seems like the perfect way to end the day.

Nothing can tear us from the game. Nothing dare interfere—we’re feistily engaged—the neighborhood kids and I.

On evenings like these, the call to dinner is often ignored or dismissed with “Later, mom” or “When we’re done.”

But when my mom calls from the kitchen door, “Soya sauce chicken,” I need no further pestering. I dismiss myself voluntarily. My favorite food is waiting and I’m going to be the first at the table.

My mother makes the most delectable soya sauce chicken. The chicken glistens with the sweat of soya sauce, in a thick broth flavored with ginger, galangal, garlic and the sweet aroma of cinnamon and star anise. Pair with a fluffy bowl of rice and a sour, spicy tangy dip—I can eat a couple of bowls of rice. Something that makes my mother intensely happy since I was scrawny and my finicky eating habits didn’t help any. But with soya sauce chicken, I need no coaxing to eat.

Over the years, I’ve watched my mom made this dish. I helped her on numerous occasions to make it and now that I live many miles away from home, I think I can make it almost as good as my mother.

Caramelzing sugar with garlic, ginger, cinnamon and star anise.

Caramelizing the sugar gives this dish a distinctive flavor--skipping this step may not produce the same flavor.
Caramelizing the sugar gives this dish a distinctive flavor--skipping this step may not produce the same flavor. | Source

Here’s how you can make this yummy dish as well:


  • 6 to 7 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 big thumb of ginger, sliced
  • 1 thumb of galangal, sliced (optional)
  • 1 piece of cinnamon bark
  • 1 piece of star anise
  • 3 pieces of chicken drumsticks
  • 3 pieces of chicken thighs
  • 5 to 6 hardboiled eggs
  • 3 tbs of sugar (white or brown)
  • ¼ cup dark soya sauce
  • ¼ cup of light soya sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

Simmering....smell the aroma.

Simmering brings all the flavors together and thickens the broth to coat chicken and eggs. Don't forget to stir it from time to time so it doesn't stick to the bottom of pan.
Simmering brings all the flavors together and thickens the broth to coat chicken and eggs. Don't forget to stir it from time to time so it doesn't stick to the bottom of pan. | Source


  • Add sugar to heated wok and caramelize it (allow it to melt and turn golden brown)
  • Add sliced garlic, ginger and galangal and sautee until well-coated
  • Add chicken drumsticks and thighs
  • Add dark soya sauce and light soya sauceand coat well.
  • Add eggs and about 1 cup of water
  • Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour until sauce thickens and the chicken pieces and eggs are well coated.

Dish it out, garnish with cilantro and green onion and serve with jasmine rice.

All done....

The meat falls off the bone, the eggs are infused with all the sweet aromatic spices and all that's left to do is to dig in.
The meat falls off the bone, the eggs are infused with all the sweet aromatic spices and all that's left to do is to dig in. | Source

How Soya sauce is made?

Why use soya sauce for cooking?

This dish is typical of red cooking, where meat is allowed to simmer in soya sauce-based liquid with other seasonings. The slow simmering process allows the meat to be infused with all the aromatic flavors of soya sauces and spices used. Usually chicken parts with bones are used as they tend to turn out moist and the meat will actually fall off the bones. Alternatively pork with some fats are used, mostly cuts from the belly.

This recipe calls for a sizeable amount of soya sauce (both light and dark) and you may be concerned about the sodium content. Since I grew up on soya sauce—soya sauce is often used to season food in lieu of salt, I almost feel a protective need to justify its use. It's true that soya sauce has high sodium content--one tablespoon of soya sauce contains about 1,000 milligrams of sodium (about half of the allowed servings of salt for the day). High salt intake has been linked to certain health risks such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular health. However, recent research sheds some positive light on the type of sodium found in soya sauce and it has to do with the fermenting process. The fermenting process used breaks down the proteins found in soya beans to smaller molecules called peptides. Some of the peptides are shown to inhibit angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ACE) from constricting the blood vessels. Less blood constricting activity means less effect on blood pressure. Although the research is promising ,it is by no means conclusive.

If you’re still worried about the sodium content, there is less sodium soya sauce. In addition, since soya sauce is flavorful, you may actually be using less to flavor food and as a result, less sodium is used.

But wait, there are actually more health benefits associated with this seasoning choice, something I was really excited to uncover since I had no idea that it can be that beneficial.

  • Rich source of vitamin, minerals and antioxidants

Fermented from soya beans, soya sauce is rich in vitamin, minerals and antioxidants (nutrient profile shown below). In terms of protein density, soya sauce ranks 9th among the world’s healthiest foods. Some studies have also indicated that the antioxidant density to be higher than red wine. The antioxidants found in soya sauce are credited with decreasing the formation of hydrogen peroxide, implicated with oxidative stress (the root cause of generating certain diseases and premature aging).

Nutrients in Soya Sauce in One Tablespoon (18 grams)

Ingredients Used in Making Soya Sauce Without Additives
Soya beans
Vitamin B3

Types of soya sauce

Soya sauce is also known widely as shoyu and if you're concerned about gluten, opt for tamarin (soya sauce made without wheat). It is best to buy soya sauce that is traditionally made without artificial colors, flavors and additives. In my culture, we use two different types of soya sauce--light and dark. Difference? Dark soya sauce is darker in color and its deeper hue is due to the longer fermenting process. Molasses or caramel is often added in the preparation, resulting in a less salty, sweeter version. It is often used for added flavor and it gives food a richer color to boot. It's also a favorite ingredient in dipping sauces. According to some research, it has ten times more antioxidants than red wine.

  • Promote growth of friendly bacteria in large intestine.

Friendly bacteria is essential for promoting healthy gastrointestinal tract. Since bacteria is used to ferment soya sauce, it goes to reason that soya sauce contains healthy microorganisms (probiotics) which promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. An otherwise unhealthy digestive tract can cause heartburn, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.

  • Helps Heart health

According to Mayo clinic, niacin may decrease blood levels of cholesterol and lipoprotein, which in turn may reduce risks of atherosclerosis (or the hardening of arteries). Note: one tablespoon of soya sauce delivers 0.72 mg of niacin. In addition, niacin is generally responsible for the health of skin, nerves and the digestive system.

  • Regulates Mood

If you enjoy Chinese food, it may be due to the amount of tryptophan found in soya sauce. That may be a supposition but tryptophan is an amino acid involved in the production of serotonin. According to Cleveland clinic, serotonin is a chemical that promotes calmness, improves mood and relieve depression. It also states that high levels of serotonin control appetite and satisfy cravings—both useful in weight control.

All things considered, moderation is key to eating. Since I don’t eat soya sauce chicken every day, I think I can give myself permission to enjoy it while I’m at it. So, let’s bring out the chopsticks, some rice and enjoy the sweet, savory, flavorful and aromatic helping of soya sauce chicken.


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