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Family Recipes: Chicken steamed in sake

Hiroko Kawai's family recipe of chicken steamed in sake.
Lucien Jung
Hiroko Kawai's family recipe of chicken steamed in sake.

Following a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, contributor Lucien Jung is back with more beloved recipesthat local residents remember from childhood. In this episode, he joins Hiroko Kawai who shares her mother’s recipe for chicken steamed in sake.

Chicken steamed in sake is a dish that Kawai’s mother made when she wanted to treat her family to a “fancy” meal that was easy to prepare.

“She had four children, so she was very busy all the time,” says Kawai.

Hiroko Kawai's handwritten recipe from her mother.
Lucien Jung
Hiroko Kawai's handwritten recipe from her mother.

Sake elevates the humble chicken into something company worthy. Ginger, scallions and salt round out the seasonings. Everything’s baked in a covered casserole dish for about an hour. The chicken is then chilled before being served alongside hot rice and green beans. Traditionally, the sliced ginger and scallions are removed before serving.

“My mother's way was to take off everything after being cooked,” says Kawai. But the joy of cooking is often in discovering your own tastes, and interpreting beloved family recipes in ways that bring delight and whimsy to the familiar.

Unlike her mother, Kawai serves her chicken with the ginger and scallions because she particularly relishes chewing on the fragrant ginger medallions that perfume her dish.

Enhancing the spicy and floral notes of the ginger and sake is a punchy dipping sauce that makes this elegant medley sing. Rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and Japanese mustard, all tempered by a few drops of sesame oil, come together in ways that enliven the tongue.

When Kawai tastes this dish, she recalls her family sitting around the table, laughing and sharing stories. In her memories, the dish itself is an afterthought — just something on the table, but “it’s there” says Kawai. “This dish is there.”

Lucien Jung
Hiroko Kawai with chicken steamed in sake.


Serves 4

Chicken Steamed in Sake


4 or 5 chicken thighs

Fresh ginger root (to taste) peeled and sliced

Scallions (to taste)

Sake (enough to immerse chicken - see note)

Salt (to taste)


Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt

Slice ginger and scallions

Place chicken thighs in baking dish and pour on sake until chicken is drenched

Sprinkle on sliced ginger and scallions

Cover baking dish and bake at 350° for one hour

Chill and then slice chicken before serving with hot rice, green beans and dipping sauce

NOTE: Kawai suggests using inexpensive cooking sake. Premium sakes would be wasted on this preparation.

Dipping Sauce


½ tablespoon karashi (Japanese mustard - see note)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

A few drops of sesame oil


Mix all of the ingredients together and serve.

NOTE: You can substitute Japanese mustard with other mustard — like Chinese mustard or yellow mustard — but don’t use Dijon because it has too much vinegar.

Lucien Jung is a Milwaukee-based video and radio producer. His research in the IP-based distribution of multimedia has been presented at the Broadcast Education Association’s annual conference as well as the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. Lucien is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications master’s program in Television-Radio-Film.
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